The 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, Republic of Korea, are shaping up to look a lot like the Consumer Electronics Show with a sports motif. Robots, more robots, autonomous buses, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and 5G cellular service will be everywhere, from Alpensia stadium to resorts and events taking place in nearby Gangneung. The official moniker for this extravaganza is “Passion. Connected.” And the government calls it the “K-ICT Olympics,” ICT referring to information and communication technologies, so no one misses the point.
There will be robots everywhere, 85 from the government alone, performing 11 different functions from drawing murals on venue walls to delivering things from place to place and helping humans find their way around in Korean, Chinese, Japanese, or English. Two “humanoids” at Seoul's Incheon International Airport will be lumbering, cleaning up the facilities, and roaming the halls giving people directions and boarding information.
Robots will even have their own Olympic alpine skiing competition. Eight teams of robot skiers, replete with skis and ski poles, will amble along a 70m-long slope, each one having three attempts to make it to the bottom. Last but certainly not least, HUBO, created by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (winner of the 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge), carried the ceremonial Olympic torch for 150ft. of the historic torch’s journey. To top that, “he” performed a simulated rescue mission, cutting a hole in a brick wall while still holding the torch, then passing the torch to another robot.
On the driverless vehicle front, Hyundai is showing off its connected hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and autonomous vehicles, offering test drives to those not faint of heart, and its autonomous buses will be “in duty-on-display” on opening day, shuttling people to various venues.
The US alpine ski team, the first of any country to employ virtual reality in their training, have expanded their capabilities for the Olympics, using software that allows racers to memorize the characteristics of the hill and take hundreds of virtual runs down a simulated course. The result is that once they arrived in South Korea, the team had already spent months virtually racing the course.
In addition to the country’s expertise in robotics and artificial intelligence, South Korea’s big message to the tech world is how close it is to deploying the fifth generation of cellular technology. The country has committed to making “5G” commercially available late in 2019, and some of what it will be offering will be demonstrated at the Winter Games. KT (formerly Korea Telecom), the country’s universities, and industry partners have constructed a high-speed network, with the performance needed to deliver 4K video, virtual reality, 360 degrees images, and holographic effects.
Fans will be able to watch some events from multiple directions and angles thanks to KT’s "Sync View" technology, which uses small cameras to stream 4K video and holograms of players. Ski jumping and snowboarding will also be captured by 360 degrees cameras and broadcast on the 5G networks, and the Hologram Live service will let athletes conduct interviews on the ski slopes through holograms that make it seem as though viewers are right next to them.
KT has also outfitted skating rinks with this technology so viewers can rotate the image and zoom in on skaters. This feat will be accomplished by assembling images from 100 cameras around the rink to create a view customized for each viewer. On the slopes, another system will make it possible to track the progress of various athletes who will be wearing GPS receivers.
Security is always a primary concern at the Olympics and has been scaled up enormously this year—with a major US presence including the Diplomatic Security Service, the FBI, the always mysterious Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and others we’ll never hear about. More than 13,000 South Korean police officers will be visibly present at the Winter Games, along with explosive-detecting robots, smart police cars, and drone jammers.
Like Super Bowl commercials, the technologies on parade at this year’s Winter Games will be a sideshow, fascinating to some and (especially robots) simply amusing to others. One thing is certain: They’ll be hard to miss.
Barry Manz is president of Manz Communications, Inc., a technical media relations agency he founded in 1987. He has since worked with more than 100 companies in the RF and microwave, defense, test and measurement, semiconductor, embedded systems, lightwave, and other markets. Barry writes articles for print and online trade publications, as well as white papers, application notes, symposium papers, technical references guides, and Web content. He is also a contributing editor for the Journal of Electronic Defense, editor of Military Microwave Digest, co-founder of MilCOTS Digest magazine, and was editor in chief of Microwaves & RF magazine.
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