Just a short drive away from PyeongChang, the site for the 2018 Winter Olympics, the Welli Hilli ski resort held the Edge of Robot: Ski Robot Challenge (opens in new tab), where Korean students and tech organizations competed for a $10,000 prize to see whose robot could navigate a simple alpine skiing challenge the fastest.
But when the humanoid-shaped robots started rolling down the slopes, most of them crashed into the flags or skidded right off the course.
The tournament required that robots have two legs and stand over 50 cm tall, with joints at the elbows and knees and an independent power source, according to Reuters (opens in new tab).
It turns out that skiing is pretty hard for robots shaped like us. The winning robot, Taekwon-V, sat the shortest of the bunch at only 75 cm (about 2’6”), and skillfully zoomed down the gentle slope in a cute blue jacket with matching skates.
Mimicking human motion and sight
Sam Lee, head of Mini Robot Corp., the team that designed Taekwon-V, said that their kid-sized robot has 21 individualized motors that help it keep its balance and navigate around obstacles.
In this video of Taekwon-V’s training runs before the main event, you can see it crashing several times into flags before learning to dodge them. Skip to the 0:55 mark to see what the robot sees: its vision is designed to spot and track red- and blue-colored obstacles while in motion.
This event wasn’t an official Olympic event, but it fits the tech theme that South Korea has shown off during this year’s games. During the opening ceremonies, Intel demonstrated a record-breaking drone formation using Shooting Star drones. And Smithsonian (opens in new tab) reports that South Korea has employed 85 robots to impress and assist visitors during the games, including robot torch bearers, translators, artists, janitors and even robofish.
For readers hoping to catch some human skiing action, check out our how to watch the Winter Olympics 2018 streaming guide for more info.