DAEJEON, Dec. 12 (Korea Bizwire) – The actual Winter Games are at least a month away, but that hasn’t stopped the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics from rewriting history right now.
On a chilly December day, the crowd gathered at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon were treated to an unusual sight; not one, but two robots serving as Olympic torch bearers.
The first runner, DRC-HUBO, arrived on scene in the driver’s seat of a self-driving car with American roboticist Dennis Hong of UCLA riding shotgun. Wearing an Olympic flag-themed beanie on its head, HUBO was greeted to cheers and applause from the excited onlookers.
A humanoid robot designed by a research collective called Team KAIST, HUBO can mimic a variety of human movements ranging from dancing to shaking a person’s hand. It brought itself and its engineering team global recognition when it took first place in the 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge that was held from 2012 through 2015. By accomplishing eight tasks the fastest amongst all other contestants, HUBO raised the profile of South Korean robotics technology internationally.
After Hong passed on the Olympic flame, HUBO pressed forward and successfully transported the fire to the next runner, its “father”, professor Oh Joon-ho, the leader of Team KAIST. Despite the obstacle that was placed in front of it as a test, HUBO maneuvered the roadblock with ease.
HUBO was only one half of the spectacle on this day, as only a few dozen meters down the road stood a 270kg robot over 2 meters tall.
Named the FX-2, what differentiated this robot from HUBO was the 14-year old young man sitting on the chair that composed the FX-2′s upper body. Designed specifically for the Winter Games according to the Olympics organizing committee, the FX-2 can be described simplistically as a giant walking chair with arms.
Its predecessor, the FX-1, was of a similar build, but was limited in two key ways: It was built to move around indoors, and it did not have the two “data-arms” that the person in the passenger seat can control. These two arms can perform similar functions to that of human appendages, and are also equipped with five fingers each that can bend or flex.
Lee Jung-jae, the pilot of the bot and the winner of a software development competition for youth, showed an example of these capabilities by shifting the Olympic torch from the robot’s left to right hand.
The Olympic flame was eventually passed to the next human in line without incident.
Broadcast live on YouTube and Facebook, the majority of comments regarding the two robots’ performance were positive, though some criticized the sounds the machines generated or South Korean robotics technology as “still far from where the United States is at”.