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Lots of high tech shown off at Games venues

Olympic athletes can try virtual versions of their own specialties
Feb 19,2018
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A visitor in a VR headset and spacesuit enjoys virtual zero gravity on the moon in the “Mission to Space VR: A Moon for All Mankind” attraction at Samsung Electronics’ Olympic Showcase pavilion in Gangneung, Gangwon.[SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS]
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Left: Omar Visintin, an Italian snowboarder competing in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, tries out 4-D snowboarding at Samsung Electronics’ Olympic Showcase in Gangneung, Gangwon. Right: A user passes through a hologram gate where Korean letters flow from the top and fade like in the science fiction film “The Matrix” at KT’s 5G.Connected pavilion in Gangneung, Gangwon. [SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS, KT]
Omar Visintin, an Italian snowboarder competing in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, swung by Samsung Electronics’ Olympic Showcase Pavilion at the Gangneung Olympic Park with his fellow athletes on Monday. He wanted to see what it was like to snowboard in a virtual world.

Many of the nearly 3,000 athletes from 92 countries taking part in the Games stopped by to check out cutting-edge virtual reality rides and games including the sports in which they lead the world. Shiva Keshavan, India’s only Olympic-level luger, and a group from the Korean ice hockey team including Bryan Young, Mike Testwuide, Michael Swift, Matt Dalton and Brock Radunske were some of the visitors to the two-story miniature VR theme park on Monday alone.

“Our showcase in Gangneung has been attracting 6,000 average visitors a day who want to experience a range of different winter Olympic sports,” said a Samsung spokesman.

The hugely popular Gangneung venue is one of nine locations that Samsung Electronics, the only official worldwide Olympic partner among Korean firms, has been running since the Winter Games kicked off on Feb. 9. Other locations include the Olympic parks, athletes’ villages and press centers spread across Gangneung and Pyeongchang as well as Incheon International Airport.

The one in Gangneung is the biggest, at 3,069 square meters (0.76 acres). Most of that space is devoted to VR experiences in 15 different zones. Visitors can become virtual athletes in skiing, alpine skiing, ski jumping, skeleton and bobsled by donning VR headsets - and following the instructions of the Samsung ride attendants.

Visitors may feel the powerful downhill speeds and the turbulence of taking part in a skeleton race by lying face down on a small bobsled. The ride last a minute and the sensation is of traveling at 135 kilometers an hour (83.8 miles per hour).

At the Winter Ride zone, visitors can try bobsled, alpine skiing and snowboarding against different backgrounds. The rides are based on Samsung’s signature Gear Ride, famous for virtually transporting a group of riders donning Gear VR headsets to an exotic spot and making them feel like they are really there.

A VR experience called “Mission to Space VR: A Moon for All Mankind,” which Samsung made exclusively for the Pyeongchang games, lets visitors feel like they are jumping around the moon in low gravity.

Many Olympic partners and sponsors have set up promotional zones in Gangneung Olympic Park - which will be torn down after the Games - and the strongest presence among global companies is in technology.

KT, the country’s second-largest mobile operator, is there. Its pentagonal pavilion “5G.Connected,” which opened on Feb. 8, also has diverse games and rides based on VR as well as augmented reality.

The big difference at KT’s pavilion is that all the gadgets and facilities use the next-generation 5G network, which KT plans to commercialize by the first half of next year with the goal of becoming the world’s first wireless operator to do so.

“5G.Connected provides a glimpse into the world that will be created by 5G connectivity,” said KT Chairman Hwang Chang-gyu at an opening ceremony on Jan. 31.

The central Seoul-based company responsible for communications and broadcasting during the Olympics has partnered with Intel and Samsung Electronics to demonstrate 5G technology in real-world conditions in the Winter Olympics for the first time.

Visitors can play virtual ice hockey with a large video screen that displays the moves of a virtual puck hit with a physical hockey stick at the showcase. The movements can be tracked and dissected from different angles with a technology called Time Slice, made possible by shooting simultaneously from 100 cameras in 360 degrees as the massive amounts of imaging data are transmitted over the 5G network.

An Olympic torch relay attraction allows a visitor wearing a VR headset to deliver the torch by actually walking on a virtual pad that recognizes his or her steps. Another corner is dedicated to making possible a virtual ski jumping experience via an immersive video screen, and a mixed reality room has a game using hybrid reality that allows only winners to exit.

KT has also been operating Live Site, a similar but smaller pavilion near its headquarters in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, for those who cannot travel to Gangwon.

Pyeongchang has gotten a lot of attention from global telecoms using 4G technology hoping to upgrade to 5G in the future.

Global figures who have visited or are set to visit the Olympic site or Seoul during the Olympic period include Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide; Jack Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba; Intel CEO Brian Krzanich; Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri; NTT Docomo CEO Kazuhiro Yishizawa; Huawei CEO Richard Wi; and China Mobile Vice President Sha Yuejia.

Alibaba and Intel have installed their own showrooms to promote their latest services and technologies in the Gangneung Olympic Park. Having become the Olympic top partner for the first time after partnering with the International Olympic Committee in January 2017, Alibaba launched a showroom devoted to its vision: everything - from games to shopping - running on the cloud.

Intel, which surprised the world with a drone light show during the opening ceremony for the Olympics, allows visitors to Intel House to watch the games live in VR headsets. Those owning VR devices - Samsung’s Gear and Google Daydream among many - may view over 30 events in skiing, curling and skeleton with a VR app from Olympic Broadcasting Service at home too.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]