Meet the Robots of the 2018 Olympics

The Pyeongchang games will have bots to clean, dance, serve drinks, provide translation and more

Skiing robots will race in a sideline competition. (Korea Institute for Robot Industry Advancement)
smithsonian.com

In South Korea, it's already unremarkable to see robots cleaning the airport, teaching English and working assembly lines. In 2016, the country sold some 41,000 robots, half as many as China, which has more than 25 times the population. Why is the country such a leader in robotics? Experts point to factors including a post-war focus on the technology sector, an eager consumer base, and even an animist religious tradition that may make the populace more comfortable with non-human intelligences. 

This month, the country will demonstrate its robotic prowess by using 85 robots at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. According to South Korea's commerce ministry, the robots will assist athletes, clean venues, provide translation and even ski. Perhaps athletes should worry whether their jobs are next to fall to the coming droid revolution?

Torch Bearer Droids

Clad in an Olympic beanie, 47-inch humanoid robot HUBO drove a car in December’s torch relay, then got out and carried the torch to a wall, punched through the wall as a demonstration of his rescue skills, and passed the flame to his creator, Professor Oh Jun-ho. Oh, who is in charge of managing robots for the Games, then handed the flame to FX-2, an eight-foot-tall humanoid riding robot piloted by a teenage student. HUBO, designed for rescue, won a 2015 DARPA robot challenge organized in response to Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster. FX-2, Oh’s latest creation, is designed to make humans stronger, Iron Man-style, or to provide mobility for the disabled. 

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