Olympics-Organisers seek to prevent heatstroke with AI gadget

A Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games staff member shows Alibaba's ear-worn device that monitors heart rate and body temperature, at the National Stadium, the main stadium of the Games, in Tokyo, Japan July 31, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato

TOKYO (Reuters) - The Tokyo Olympics is battling through a pandemic, with the Japanese capital in a state of emergency amid a record spike in COVID-19 cases, but athletes, officials and staff also face another pervasive, deadly health threat: the heat.

The risks of heatstroke at one of the hottest Games on record are borne not only by the athletes, but also by the thousands of staff, especially at outdoor venues.

In addition to conventional measures like water spray and mist fans, organisers are going high-tech, deploying a cloud-based system from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group to monitor workers' real-time conditions and send warnings and advice at signs of danger.

Already at the Games, a Russian archer has collapsed from the heat and skateboarders complained that conditions were oppressive at 9 a.m., with highs over 30 degrees Celsius (85 degrees Fahrenheit), dripping humidity and virtually daily heat warnings from the Japanese weather agency.

To forestall heatstroke, staff at 14 venues are using a black earpiece that sends heart rate and body temperature measurements to the cloud, where heatstroke risks are evaluated by an algorithm combining individual data and environmental factors.

The system sends alerts to those at high risk of heatstroke through an app, with recommended precautions such as taking a rest and drinking more water.

"I think it's useful in terms of heatstroke prevention" because it sends warnings "even when I haven't noticed (the heatstroke precursors) myself," said a 21-year-old staffer who guides Olympic participants at the National Stadium.

Alibaba Cloud, a global Olympic partner, said it has been working with organisers for years to launch the device.

Because climate change is a growing challenge for outdoor sporting events, "we started trying to use our cloud-computing technology to speed up all of the digitalisation," said Selina Yuan, general manager of the international business unit at Alibaba Cloud.

The cloud device supplements measures such as shifting some outdoor competitions to less-sweltering times of day, moving the marathon to Hokkaido in the north and devices from mist-spraying stations https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/olympics-mist-horses-cooling-vests-tokyo-games-kick-off-sweltering-heat-2021-07-20 for Olympic horses to cooling vests for referees.

A study https://www.reuters.com/article/us-olympics-2020-heat-idUSKBN2600J5 last year by a Games adviser of data back to 1984 found that Tokyo had the highest average temperature and precipitation of any host city for the period the Olympics were held. And Tokyo's five hottest days https://graphics.reuters.com/OLYMPICS-2020/SUMMER-HEAT/bdwvkogrzvm since 1964 fell in or around the July 23-Aug. 8 period of this year's Games.

The Alibaba gadget "is helpful as a tool for alerts and health maintenance for staff involved in events" by addressing the causes of heatstroke, Tokyo 2020 organisers told Reuters by email.

(Reporting by Irene Wang; Writing by William Mallard; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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