MANHASSET, N.Y. When viewers around the world turn on their TVs this Friday (Aug. 8) to watch the opening ceremony of Beijing Summer Olympics, few will be aware of a behind-the-scenes controversy quietly brewing in China over the use of MEMS-equipped electronic toy torches in the stadium.
This tempest in a teapot represents both the Chinese desire to put the nation's best foot forward and its government's intention to quash even the slightest hint of potential political dissidence.
Suspense is building around a single question: Will the Chinese Olympic Committee allow spectators during the opening ceremony to use the Waving Torch -- a replica of the Olympic Torch designed to spell out messages in midair when spectators wave them rapidly back and forth? Officials are thought to be concerned that the programmable torches might be hacked.
Embedded with an accelerometer developed by Memsic Inc. (Andover, Mass.), the electronic torch can spell out messages by synching the illumination of a foot-long line of LEDs.
The high-tech torch was supposed to create a stark contrast to decidely low-tech foam No. 1 fingers, thundersticks, cheeseheads and other paraphernalia that enliven stadiums at U.S. sporting events.
The Chinese government originally green-lighted the Waving Torch project, but industry sources are now saying that the chances that will happen are even.
Those involved in the Olympic Torch Project, including Memsic, however, are keeping mum on any controversy that may be brewing in China.
Two weeks ago, Memsic preemptively disclosed during the company's second quarter financial announcement that "the Olympic torch project was cancelled" due to the recent earthquake near where its Chinese partner was assembling the toy torches using printed circuit boards supplied by Memsic.
Others, who spoke to EE Times on the condition of anonymity, said the MEMS-based torches may have been assembled after all, and they could still show up during the opening ceremony. The real issue, they said, is not so much the earthquake that interfered with the manufacturing process, but a political eruption.
Sources say the key political problem is that the programmable electronic torch, like any electronics product, is vulnerable to being hacked. In the unlikely event that this happens, one -- or every -- Waving Torch might end up waving out freedom, justice and love between brothers and sisters all over the land, or something similarly inappropriate.