If you've been watching the Winter Olympics so far, you've probably noticed something about the sport of skiing. It's incredibly fast. Like, ZOOM!
It requires an unreal amount of skill, timing, strength, and balance to perfectly nail the turns, achieve the quickest time...and not wipe out. Every time stars like Lindsey Vonn or Marcel Hirscher go blasting down the slopes at over 130 km/h (80 mph), they're using years of technique to conquer the course.
But at the same time that these mountain masters were pushing their limits, another test of skill was happening on a nearby course. It was called Edge of Robot — the world's first robot ski tournament!
And how did it look? Well...
Just like people
The Edge of Robot course was a mere 80 metres (262 ft) long down a straight, shallow slope. That's way less challenging than the steep 2,857-metre (1.77-mile) long downhill course the athletes are navigating in PyeongChang!
But for these bots, this course was plenty difficult as it is! They also had to follow strict guidelines, such as having two legs, joints resembling elbows and knees, and a height of at least 50 cm (1.6 feet). In other words, the bots had to be humanoid, or like people. Trying to mimic human balance and motions increased the challenge for the robots' designers. (As did dealing with the cold weather.)
And above all, the robot had to be autonomous, or self-controlling. No remote control allowed!
Taking it one ski at a time
In a way, you'd think that skill, timing, strength, and balance of a skier would be easy things to program into a robot. And one day, maybe they will be. But as we've seen before, the gap between what we'd like a robot to do and what it can actually do is often pretty large. Especially when dealing with something as unpredictable as playing a sport.
For a view into what the robot sees, and what it must react to, check out this cool video!
See, even when a ski course is supposedly the same every time, there are tiny differences that a skier must constantly adjust to in a fraction of a second. Wind. Loose snow. Patches of ice. Ruts left by previous skiers. The same course is slightly different every time. When you think about it like that, it is amazing that these machines can make down the hill at all.
Way to go, robots!