And the prize for the best Olympic tech goes to…


It’s hard to proclaim a winner when it comes to the fantastic tech we’ve witnessed in Pyeongchang. We’ve created a round-up of the best developments we’ve spotted: between live-translating robots, skiing bots and snowboarding drones, should we be worried that the 2022 Olympics will only be held in VR?

Ski bots on the slopes: Retailers know all about automation displacing retail staff like cashiers, but the Winter Olympics are showing that even Olympic skiers have something to worry about. The Robot Ski Challenge mounted by eight Korean robotics teams, was a mix of Robot Wars and Ski Sunday. It provided fabulous fun and showed that although small (the winner was only 75 cm in height), the robots can move swiftly and avoid obstacles thanks to their eye-cameras and sensors. Impressive and safer than injury-prone humans attempting a slalom in windy conditions. Next on the agenda are robot waiters in your local pizza place.

Catching up with C3PO: The Korean language is incredibly difficult to master and those who visited the Olympic city of Pyeongchang have noted that it’s not easy to find English language signs. The Olympic Welcome team is solving that problem with an army of robot translators that welcome guests at the airport and then look after them in the Olympic Village – the inbuilt AI came in handy as the robots had to learn ‘on the job’ to recognise words spoken with a variety of accents in multiple languages. Maybe we’re not yet in C3PO territory (the much-loved Star Wars droid speaks 6 million languages), but it is a start and Harrods could do with a few of those right now.  

5G road to self-driving carsThe Olympics area was kitted out with a 5G network to demo what a new speedy network can enable. 5G in Pyeongchang is supporting a team of electric, autonomous self-driving white buses transporting Olympic guests around the village, with their sensors and cameras picking up signals then communicating over 5G with the ‘car brain’ back at the owners’ base to get the solution for each situation. The future is definitely here – it’s just not very evenly distributed, as author William Gibson used to say – and cities worldwide are paying attention.

VR hits the sweet snowboarding spotFancy watching an Olympic event from a first-person perspective? A VR Olympic experience is now possible thanks to Korean leadership on 5G, as Google Cardboard and other VR headset providers have installed cameras on sportsmen’s helmets, bikes, shoes and wherever feasible. They created 18 live VR-streamed sports such as downhill skiing and snowboarding to watch: it feels like you’re right there. NBC and Intel also got together to cover at least 30 events in VR, using drone-mounted cameras in 180-degree stereoscopic view thanks to Intel’s True VR system. That means there’s no need to travel to Korea to suffer hypothermia in the stadium’s subzero temperatures.

In the sky with diamonds: Not Lucy but Luke in the sky with diamonds was the nickname given to the snowboarder figure created by Intel drone technologists for the Olympic opening ceremony. Walking, driving and translating robots were working hard at the Olympics, but the flying robots stole the show at the magnificent launch. A live sculpture was created using 1,218 drones programmed to fly in a formation that made a graceful shape of a 3D snowboarder and, later, were reshaped into an Olympic ring. Super-light (12oz) quadrocopters with LED lights were used in the stunning show and the whole display was controlled by one pilot via a single computer. Who says technical staff are not productive? The Guinness Book of Records recognised the display as making huge progress in a real-time flying drone sculpture display, improving on the 500 drones deployed by Lady Gaga at the last Super Bowl. Kudos to Korean teams for hosting an amazing display of cutting edge tech in a human-friendly manner!