The PyeongChang Olympics are likely to be remembered for the joint Korean team, wind delays, and robots. Yes, robots. South Korea is taking advantage of the international spotlight to show off its leadership in robotics, with eleven different types of robots – eighty five, in all – in action at the Olympics. And that’s not counting the swarm of drones featured in the Opening Ceremonies.
A humanoid robot known as HUBO made history by being the first robot to carry the Olympic torch. The former winner of the DARPA Robotics Challenge drove a car, while its inventor, professor Oh Jun-ho of Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), held the torch in the passenger seat. HUBO then got out, walked several steps with the torch, cut a hole in a wall, and handed the torch through the hole back to Oh. He then passed the torch to someone sitting atop a robotic walker.
Oh is overseeing all the robots at the Games. There are floor-cleaning robots that resemble Star Wars’ BB-8, translator robots modeled after the white tiger mascot of the games, artist robots that render murals based on recent Olympic highlights, and ponds of robotic koi fish for pure entertainment value.
Robots even competed in their own pseudo-Olympic event – a downhill skiing contest. Eight Korean teams put their robots to the test, skiing a short slalom course without the human direction.
Emily Matchar has written about the Olympic robots for Smithsonian Magazine, and she says it’s definitely a “friendly face of robotics” that Olympic athletes and spectators are seeing. Korean robotics companies are hoping that will translate into increased interest in purchasing their products.