With South Korea set to host their first Olympic Games since Seoul in 1988, they appear ready to engage in the pomp and circumstance that every host puts on display in their own ways. Unlike other hosts, the Winter Pyeongchang Games will focus much of its national showcase around tech. With reports that a 5G network and Ultra-HD broadcasting of the events will be two new-tech features of the February pageantry, it is the innovations which fall into the field of robotics that are easiest to get excited about.
The Olympic torch was already recorded in the claws of a Korean humanoid robot earlier this month, and there will be far more practical uses for robotics as the games wear on. The robot, Hubo, was created to autonomously navigate dangerous, disaster situations and identify threats. These will, quite simply, be the most human employee-free Games that there has ever been.
As in life, we talk safety first. Police will have access to smart police cars, explosive-detecting robots, specially-designed smartphones equipped to aid in policing activities, and devices that jam the signals of unwanted drones to take them out of commission. Robotics will also be used for services that are of a lighter note.
With eight different companies partnering with the South Korean government on separate projects since 2016, we are not far away from seeing the fruits of those efforts, as opening ceremonies begin on February 9th. With a $1.5 million in co-funding from the South Korean government, it’s clear that Seoul’s leadership wants to ensure that the robotic aspect of the games is up to snuff. Both private businesses and universities took part in the innovation efforts.
You can expect the ultra-practical, including a quad-lingual robotic guide that can direct you to your destination and drink-delivering bots. Other dome-shaped robots will be tasked with sweeping streets and lobbies and returning to their charging stations autonomously.
There are also robots that are more for show, such as a robotic version of Soohorang, the Olympic mascot with which visitors will be able to interact and take photos. Humanoid robots will even compete in the games, with ten of them racing down a 200-meter ski slope. At the International Broadcast Center, synchronized fish-like robots will put on an in-water show for those who pass by. Like we said, some of these inventions are very much for show, but still very cool.
Jun-ho Oh is the director of the Institute for Robotics at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, and was put in charge of overseeing the robotics operations by the South Korean government. The robots designed for the games will function by ‘Oh’s Three Laws of Olympic Robotics’. Yes, that’s actually what they’re referring to these three guidelines as.
1) A robot must do no harm and make no trouble.
2) The robot must display something new, even if it is a new trick in an older model.
3) The robot must be useful, serving some valuable purpose.
This big bet on robotics means that the robots, especially those which will be delivering drinks and sweeping amongst crowds, must be pristine in their navigation, stopping, starting, and turning skills. This has Oh sweating a bit, even if his robots aren’t.
I have more anxiety than excitement, Oh says. He also stated plainly what we all could have guessed: I hope people will like them.