Technology at the Winter Olympics: drone light shows to robot selfies
Image credit: REUTERS/Phil Noble
While PyeongChang has been playing host to the Winter Olympic Games, athletes have been sharing the world stage with a range of emerging technologies.
The Winter Olympics has seen the first commercial deployment of a 5G network in a non-test environment. Intel and KT Corporation – the South Korean mobile carrier – set up this network in order to transfer colossal amounts of data at high speed around the venue, allowing for live broadcasts from data-hungry high definition and virtual reality (VR) streams. Guests at the Olympics can access 5G using Intel tablets at ‘spectator zones’ around the Olympic Village.
It is estimated that transmission of data via 5G will be, on average, 1,000 times faster than existing networks. A full rollout of 5G in South Korea is scheduled for 2021.
Hyundai and KT teamed up with Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport to deploy a fleet of autonomous buses to ship guests around the Olympic Village. These buses are 5G-equipped, allowing them to access live information about their surroundings via the local high-speed network.
Meanwhile, Hyundai used the Olympics as an opportunity to put its driverless Nexo SUV on show, the first autonomous electric vehicle to be powered with a fuel cell. Earlier in February, the Nexo drove itself from Seoul to PyeongChang: a journey of nearly 130km.
The 2018 Winter Olympics have become the first Olympic event to be broadcast live in VR. Intel – technology partner for the International Olympic Committee and VR Experience Partner of the 2018 Winter Games – has been covering 30 events with Intel True VR. Half of these events will be streamed live in 180° 3D, while the other half will be available on demand in 360° 3D.
This requires 12 VR rigs, each of which is equipped with between three and six 4K cameras to capture different views and audio. These high-definition cameras, which each record 1TB of data per hour, were connected to the local 5G network.
Meanwhile, Samsung offered guests VR simulations of cross-country skiing and snowboarding, alongside a VR ‘space mission’ which simulated the experience of low-gravity environments.
Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy has supported eight companies with the deployment of 85 robots to assist with running the games.
Perhaps most notably, LG let loose a fleet of its humanoid guide robots in Seoul’s Incheon Airport. These robots – which can speak Korean, Japanese, Mandarin and English – assist visitors by offering information about the Olympics and other tourism advice. These robots are all connected to the airport’s central computers, allowing them to access live information.
Other autonomous robots have been painting murals, cleaning floors and entertaining visitors with singing, dancing and offers of selfies.
On the sidelines of the Olympics, the Ski Robot Challenge was held on a ski slope outside PyeongChang. Teams of roboticists entered their creations into what was marketed as the world’s first skiing competition for autonomous robots. These robots had to be humanoid, with a height of at least 50cm and two jointed legs.
“I think robots will have their own Winter Games on the sidelines of the Olympics,” Kim Dong-Uk, Ski Robot Challenge organiser told Reuters. However, professional athletes may have little to fear from their robotic rivals; many of the robots struggled on the slope and fell during their attempts.
While drones have been used for years in sports broadcasting, at PyeongChang, they were employed for surveillance and for pure show.
A troop of surveillance drones were deployed to scan both the ground and sky – which has been designated a no-fly zone around the Olympic Village – for suspicious activity. If they spot any unauthorised aerial vehicles, these drones may summon interceptor drones to capture the intruders with nets.
More dramatically, illuminated drones flew in perfect formation during the lavish opening ceremony. Intel’s Shooting Star drones are equipped with built-in LED lights, allowing for billions of colour combinations when deployed en masse. During the light show, the 1,218 drones were controlled by a computer and pilot; a stunt which set a Guiness World Record for “most unmanned aerial vehicles airborne simultaneously”. The drones formed the floating shapes of a snowboarder, a skier and the iconic Olympic rings.