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2008 Olympic Uniforms: Designed for Performance

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The difference between winning and not winning in some Olympic events can come down to a thousandth of a second. With so much at stake, no detail can be overlooked. The uniforms worn by athletes during their performance of a lifetime are not designed for looks, but for performance enhancement, no matter how slight.

Nike developed uniforms for Team USA's track and field competitions. The multi-part outfits are called the Nike Swift System of Dress. Athletes choose which accessories they feel will be advantageous. There are socks, gloves, and arm coverings built to reduce drag. Wearing arm covering while running in the August heat may seem counterproductive, but tests show that the sleeves reduce drag by 19% over bare arms, and the long socks reduce drag by 12.5%. Nike figures the improvements in the garments since the 2004 Olympics in Athens will mean a benefit of .02 seconds in the 100 meter race.
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Team USA athletes wear various forms of the Nike uniforms designed for different events. Continue reading for innovations in uniforms for swimming, basketball, and the heat of Beijing in August.

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The USA basketball teams will also have lighter uniforms.

The new Nike designed uniform for the USA Men's and Women's teams eliminates 25 centimeters of material and reduces the weight by 31 percent when compared with current uniforms.

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Nike is supplying uniforms to China's Olympic team as well, for sports from BMX to basketball. Pictured is NBA star Yi JianLian in his Olympic uniform.
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Adidas is providing Olympic uniforms for Australian athletes. Uniforms for certain sports will feature Thermoplastic Urethane Powerbands for muscle compression in selected areas of the body, depending on the sport.

Working in unison with the muscles they function like springs and testing using the new technology has resulted in significant performance benefits including a 1.1% increase in speed, 5.3% increase on average power output and an 0.8% decrease in oxygen consumption resulting in increased efficiency and endurance.

The Australian uniforms will also feature a complex system of mesh and vents to regulate body temperature.
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Swimmers wearing Speedo's new LZR Racer swimsuits have already broken three dozen world records this year. Developed with technology from NASA, the full-length suit is made from extremely lightweight but strong elastic material. The form-fitting panels are bonded, which eliminates seams and the drag they cause. They will be available for sale to the public later this summer.

Japan, Australia, and the USA are among the nations who will wear the LZR Racers. Countries that have contracts with other suppliers protested the suit, saying it gives swimmers an unfair advantage, but those other suppliers have since developed their own high-tech swimsuits.
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The Powerskin R-evolution swimsuit from Arena boasts fabric even lighter than the LZR Racer. It is made of a single piece of fabric, with no seams in the front. The Italian and Russian Olympic swimmers will wear this suit.
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Swimsuit company Tyr developed their own full-length Tracer swimsuit, with extreme water repellency, lightweight fabric, and targeted muscle compression. Olympic swimmers from France will wear the Tracer.

Uniforms make less of a difference for artistic sports such as diving, gymnastics, martial arts, and equestrian competition. In those events, you'll see more traditional styles with a slight distinctive flair for each country.

See also: 2008 Olympic Team Uniforms for a look at what athletes from some nations will wear in Beijing for the opening and/or closing ceremonies.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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