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2008 Olympic Team Uniforms

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Athletes traveling to Beijing for the Olympics next month will be equipped with uniforms for every occasion. Besides specifically designed sport uniforms, most will also have clothing to represent their nation as a unified team. These formal and/or leisure uniforms are used for official functions, press conferences, and the opening (formal) and closing (leisure) ceremonies.

The Team USA uniforms will bear the design of Polo Ralph Lauren. The leisure uniforms have a definite preppy look. The formal uniforms are a surprise, and won't be seen until the opening ceremonies August 8th.
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The most controversial team uniforms so far are the designs from Hudson's Bay Company for Canada. The designs feature both Canadian and Chinese symbols and text. See a gallery of the Canadian uniforms here. The response from the public has not been positive. People object to the way the uniforms look and the fact that they are manufactured in China.

The Olympic rules state that no country can wear the same uniform design in two consecutive Olympics. See more new designs for 2008 after the jump.

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Germany unveiled its Olympic uniforms in Dusseldorf in April.

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The Australian team's formal uniforms are provided by Sportscraft with shoes by Mileno. The suits are made from lightweight Italian wool, designed for the heat of Beijing. See more pictures in this gallery.

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The Japanese formal uniforms were modeled by athletes in Tokyo two months ago.

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The Russian team's retro-style uniforms are designed by Direct Design and produced by Bosco Sport. A representative of Bosco Sport said the uniforms are meant to evoke the legend of the Russian Fire Bird, which is a story akin to the Chinese Phoenix. They are also meant to evoke the Khrushchev era.

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The Olympic committee of Spain held a fashion show in Madrid featuring Olympic athletes to introduce their uniforms in April.

Which national team uniforms do you think are the most fashionable? Thursday, we'll take a look at the designs of individual sports uniforms, which have nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with performance.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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May 23, 2017
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