Robot Skiers Compete on the Slopes For Olympic Glory

It's both cute and unnerving.

Eight robots vied for a place in the olympic history books as part of the “Edge of Robot” skiing competition on Sunday. The race took place in Hoengseong, a region just east of Pyeongchang and the 2018 winter olympics.

The rules of the competition were simple: build an autonomous, humanoid robot that can slalom down an easy slope. Points were awarded for maneuvering around gates and finishing in a timely manner. For the engineers from the universities and tech firms that competed, building a robot that was up to the task proved to be quite complicated.

“We programmed the robot to imitate human movement by maneuvering 21 motors,” Sam Lee, director of sales at Mini Robot Corporation told the Korea Herald. “It has cameras and sensors that can recognize the blue and red colors of the flag gates.”

So the robot had two main tasks — determine where to steer by parsing the sensory input, and react before careening down the slope. To make matters worse, the region was buffeted by strong winds throughout the day, resulting in the postponement or cancellation of some human skiing events. Thankfully, robots can’t get frostbite, so they were able to proceed.

They robot competitors may have avoided the worst of the wind because they have low centers of gravity. While the rules stipulated that the racers must be humanoid, the height requirement was lax, allowing any robot that was more than 50 centimeters tall. From a distance, one could be forgiven for thinking it was a children’s race.

The winner of the competition was Taekwon V, built by Mini Robot Corporation. Taekwon V is 125 centimeters tall and weighs 43 kilograms; with a teal parka covering its mechanical body, the robot looks like a kid taking to skis for the first time.

The smallest robot is just 75 centimeters tall and weighs 12 kilograms.


Profiles of all the robot participants are available on a Facebook page advertising the event. The height of the robots ranged between 75 and 260 centimeters, with the lightest weighing 12 kilograms and the heaviest coming in at 60 kilograms.

The tournament was part of a larger push by South Korea’s Ministry of Trade to showcase the country’s robotic capabilities. Other robots at the 2018 winter olympics include multilingual guide robots to direct visitors, a robot named Hubo who carried the Olympic Torch, and robot fish swimming in aquariums in Pyeongchang Olympic Plaza.

While robots have proven adept at some tasks, it seems like humans still have the edge when it comes to snow sports. When the robot uprising finally happens, maybe we should run for the slopes.

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