From snow cannons to surveillance boxes, here’s the tech at play in Sochi

Tech in Sochi

In a matter of days, the eyes of the world will fall upon Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. And while the sports are set to take center stage, I couldn’t help but wonder what technology would be at play behind the scenes. Would the athletes have easy access to high-speed Internet? Will the Russian government use digital surveillance to crack down on gay Olympians? How are they going to stop the impending threat of terrorism? Here’s what I found.

Everything is under surveillance

Think the NSA surveillance activities are intrusive? They pale in comparison to the level of scrutiny Russia’s government will be giving to the people at the 2014 Games. According to the Guardian, Russia’s Federal Surveillance Service (FSB) plans to employ something known as “SORM boxes” (SORM stands for System of Operative-Investigative Measures), which give them the ability to monitor most communications, search text messages and emails for keywords, and track technology users’ locations.

The SORM boxes are so powerful that the US Department of State recommends that anyone going to Sochi (or elsewhere in Russia) considers “travelling with ‘clean’ electronic devices” to help protect secret data. And “if you do not need the device, do not take it.”

Yes, there is Internet (and LTE!)

Sochi is not some backwater hamlet – in fact, it has a population of nearly 500,000, making it Russia’s largest resort town. As such, Sochi has a fairly robust technological infrastructure. Internet access can be found at most hotels (at least the ones that are not still under construction), and there are still some Internet cafes, according to WikiTravel.

The best bet for getting online, however, may be through a wireless connection. While a number of wireless providers service Sochi, MegaFon is the “official” mobile provider for the Games. The company has opened its 3G network to other carriers to help ease some of the expected congestion. But to access 4G LTE service, Olympians and fans will need to have service through MegaFon or Rostelecom, which launched its LTE network in Sochi earlier this year. 

Beware gay dating apps

Russia’s oppressive law against gays and lesbians has shrouded this year’s Olympics in a veil of ugliness and uncertainty for athletes and sports fans, who may or may not be arrested for simply being themselves at the 2014 Games. And the recent fate of Hunters, a popular Russian gay dating app similar to Grindr, may foreshadow what’s to come.

According to the founders and CEO of Hunters (via Towerload), the app was recently hacked to show users a message that read, “You will be arrested and jailed for gay propaganda in Sochi according to Russian Federal Law #135 Sektion 6.” The app was then blocked in Sochi. The Hunters team believes the Russian government is behind the hack of the app. 

Let it snow

Just saying the word “Russia” can cause some people to shiver. But Sochi is not the barren wasteland of ice and snow you might think it to be. In fact, it has a “subtropical” climate, and is on the same latitude as Toronto, Canada, and Nice, France. So, while it is technically winter in Sochi, it’s not actually that cold – it’s expected to be in the low 50s on Friday, when the Opening Ceremonies kick off.

Because of this, Russia has rolled in countless high-powered snow cannons to ensure that the skiers aren’t trudging through mud. Leading the effort is a Finnish company called SnowSecure, which has reportedly stockpiled some 500,000 cubic meters of snow that can be spread out in the event of some pesky sunshine. 

Drones are watching 

The threat of terrorism at this year’s Games is palpable due to a wide variety of factors. To help keep things calm during the world’s biggest sporting event, some 70,000 police officers and tens of thousands of other government security personnel will be monitoring the games. But, of course, this wouldn’t be a 21st century event without a couple of drones getting in the mix. The robotic vehicles will be patrolling from both the sky and the ground, with robotic bomb detectors helping the packs of bomb-sniffing dogs employed to keep the Olympics from turning into a historic disaster, reports CBC. Russia will also use sonar, anti-ballistic missiles, and underwater machine guns – you know,  just in case.

(Image courtesy of Mikkel Bigandt via

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Product Review

Garmin's Fenix 5X Plus is built for fitness freaks who fawn over every feature

With onboard music, full-color topographic maps, and new sport metrics, the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus sets a high bar for GPS smartwatches. Find out how it can help boost your performance in our Fenix 5X Plus review.

Annual game releases are boring. Try a quirky indie game for the PS4 instead

While big budget games rely on practical innovation, indie games dive head first into new, unexplored territories. If the quirky and unusual appeal to you, take a look at our list of the best indie games on PS4.

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.

These are the best Xbox One games out right now

More than four years into its lifespan, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From 'Cuphead' to 'Halo 5,' the best Xbox One games offer something for everyone.

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now, from Super Mario Odyssey to Fortnite.

These zip-on bike tires change up your tread to match the terrain

Retyre gives cyclists the ability to change the tread on their bike tires simply by zipping on an overlay designed to provide better grip on trails or in the snow, without replacing the existing tires.
Product Review

Withings Steel HR Sport is a fitness tracker you’ll love wearing

Withings jumps back in the wearables game with the new Steel HR Sport, a hybrid smartwatch that is as much a fitness tracker as it is a timepiece. It's so good that it hasn't left our wrist since we pulled it out of the package.
Emerging Tech

Forget laxatives — this electronic pill will literally shake the crap out of you

Are you suffering from constipation? What you really need is a vibrating smart pill that promises to shake the crap out of you. And we mean that completely literally. Here's how it works.

The best sound machines to help you fall (and stay) asleep

Whether you find that sleep better with white noise, rain sounds, or deep sleep music, there’s a sound machine on the market that will be able to help you catch more z’s in no time at all.

Our favorite fitness trackers make it fun to keep moving

Looking for your first fitness tracker, or an upgrade to the one you're already wearing? There are plenty of the wrist-worn gadgets available. Here are our picks for the best fitness trackers available right now.

The Wau stands out in the crowded ebike market with its 60-mile range

The Wau ebike is a high-tech commuter that offers onboard GPS tracking, geofenced alarm systems, built-in front and rear lights, and pedal-assist speeds of up to 20 mph, with a range of as much as 60 miles between charges.
Emerging Tech

With VR dinosaurs and ‘Minecraft,’ one hospital is making medicine less scary

From augmented reality rabbits on the wards to a Minecraft recreation of the hospital for kids to explore, one of the world's most renowned children's hospitals just got a major tech overhaul.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: DIY smartphones and zip-on bike tires

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best gear and gadgetry you can snag for $100 or less

A $100 bill can get you further than you might think -- so long as you know where to look. Check out our picks for the best tech under $100, whether you're in the market for headphones or a virtual-reality headset.