As world-class skiers brave the frozen hills of PyeongChang, South Korea, at the 2018 Winter Olympics, robots are testing their own mettle in an alpine competition.
Earlier this week, the Ski Robot Challenge pitted eight robotics teams from South Korean schools and a company against each other. On the line: $10,000 and bragging rights as the first company to build a self-skiing robot. It took place at a ski slope in Heongseong, about an hour away from the games.
Terms of the competition required the robots to have a human-like form with joints, be at least 50 cm tall, be self-propelled and self-driving, rely on actual skis and must at least include ski poles. The robots were judged on how well they navigated the short slalom course and how quickly they were able to complete their run. The bots relied on vision sensors, radar, processors and motors to recognize flags to speed through the course.
The competition was organized by the government as part of a wider celebration of the Olympics and to feature the nation’s leading role in the robotics industry. In 2016, South Korea represented the second-largest robotics market, and it also has the highest industrial robot density per capita, according to the International Federation of Robotics. Robots did have a small role in the opening ceremonies of the games last week, but this is not an Olympics-sanctioned event.
Ultimately, many of the robots failed to complete the course, as they either fell over or got hung up on slalom flags. It was the smallest robot participant, Taekwon V, standing at 75 cm tall and built by the aptly-named MiniBot Corp., that took home the prize. The robot, named after a popular cartoon character, completed the course in just 18 seconds.
One thing the builders apparently didn’t plan for was stopping the robot, as videos feature developers trailing the robots with tethers or waiting at the bottom of the hill to catch the machines before trundling into the crowd.
“I think in the future robots will have their own Winter Games on the sidelines of the Olympics held by humans,” told event official Kin Dong-uk to the Reuters news agency.