Despite the sub-zero temperatures experienced during the highly successful Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, it was not only the athletes’ fantastic performances that warmed the cockles but also the spectacular technology that was on display during the Games.

5G technology showcased

One of the most exciting developments during the Games was, without doubt, the first commercial deployment of a 5G network in a non-test environment. Intel and KT Corporation collaborated to set up a micro version of what is bound to be a not too distant tech world in which we will find ourselves. This 5G network allowed for live broadcasts in high definition together with virtual reality (VR) streams. 5G stations were set up to track cross-country skiers, and dozens of cameras were deployed inside the ice arena, making this the first Winter Olympics to be broadcast live in virtual reality. Half the events were streamed live in 180° 3D, while the other half were available on demand in 360° 3D. This VR experience allowed viewers to feel part of the action giving them a 'fly on the wall' perspective.

This experience required 12 VR rigs, each of which was equipped with between three and six 4K cameras to capture different views and audio. These high-definition cameras, which each recorded 1TB of data per hour, were all connected to the local 5G network.

If you don’t think 5G is important, then you’re missing the boat. The 4G network we currently operate our smartphones on has a maximum speed of one gigabit per second. 5G can reach up to 10 gigabits per second and also significantly cuts down on latency. It is estimated that transmission of data via 5G will be, on average, 1,000 times faster than existing networks. A full rollout of 5G in South Korea is scheduled for 2021.

Drones

One of the most noticeable technologies used in the 2018 Winter Olympics was the drone. The opening ceremony kicked off with an amazing light show in the clear winter night sky carried out solely by Intel’s drones. The drones were equipped with cameras of high-definition and thermal imaging to ensure safety and security throughout the event.

Drones were also used for surveillance and security purposes, deployed to scan both the ground and sky for suspicious activity. If they were to spot any unauthorised aerial vehicles, these drones could summon interceptor drones to capture the intruders with nets.

In South Korea under the Aviation Security Act (applicable to drones), personal information and personal location information is governed by the Personal Information Protection Act (“PIPA”) and the Act on the Protection, Use, etc. of Location Information.

Information like a picture or video obtained or filmed during the flight of a drone which contains an identifiable image of a person constitutes personal information under the PIPA. As regards the collection and use of location data, there are issues as to whether it is appropriate to regulate the relevant acts pursuant to which such information is collected (even though such acts were not intended to collect such information). There are commentators who argue that the focus should be more on regulating the use and potential leakage of the relevant information as opposed to restricting the use of drones themselves.

An effective legal framework needs to be reached regarding the use of drones and privacy issues. Naturally, data security issues relating to the hacking or seizure of drones would also be relevant. It remains an issue that requires in depth discussion between all interested parties.

As well as privacy issues, the use of drones involves liability issues which are similar to those raised by driverless or autonomous vehicles (AVs) which were also in evidence at the Winter Olympics.

Autonomous Vehicles

Hyundai (which recently started testing a driverless version of its fuel cell car that successfully completed a 190km trial journey from Seoul to Pyeongchang) and KT teamed up with South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport to deploy a fleet of autonomous buses to ferry guests around the Olympic Village. These buses were 5G-equipped, allowing them to access live information about their surroundings via the local high-speed network.

We know there are liability issues in relation to autonomous vehicles as traditional models are superseded and it becomes very challenging to identify the liable party. For example, what happens when an autonomous car and truck collide, or when a smart car hits a cyclist? Who would be the liable party? The programmer who developed the source code, the lab that tested the vehicle’s protocols, the 5G network if there were latency issues, the car manufacturer or perhaps the car owner?

In South Korea, this is complicated by the way criminal liability for road accidents is structured. For example, if someone is injured in a road traffic accident due to the negligence of the other party, this falls under the Criminal Act. Under the Criminal Act, Article 268 (Death and Injury by Occupational or Gross Negligence), "a person who causes the death or injury of another by occupational or gross negligence, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than five years or by a fine not exceeding 20 million won". In addition, the Act on Special Cases Concerning the Settlement of Traffic Accidents, Article 3 (Special Cases for Punishment) states: "A driver of a vehicle who commits a crime provided for in Article 268 of the Criminal Act by reason of a traffic accident shall be punished by imprisonment without prison labor for not more than five years or by a fine not exceeding 20 million won".

A vehicle under the Road Traffic Act, Article 2 (Definitions) would include a driverless/autonomous vehicle. The obvious additional difficulty which this current definition throws up is: who is the "driver"? Would this be the vehicle manufacturer? Would this be the software incorporated into the vehicle? Would it be the owner? How does one bring a criminal charge against a company and would this make the directors responsible?

Also in medal contention

Although the use of the 5G network was the gold medal winner in terms of tech use at the Games, we would like to give the following honorable mentions:

Robots

LG introduced two types of robots that were deployed at Incheon (Korea’s largest airport): cleaning robots; and robotic guides for travellers which were equipped with LG’s voice recognition technology and could understand 4 different languages (English, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese).

Smartsuits

Two Dutch speed skaters on the short track wore Smartsuits made by Samsung. These haptic suits are embedded with sensors and connect the athletes to their coaches’ mobile technology so they can monitor their athletes’ body data in real time. The coach can send messages to the athletes via vibrations in certain portions of the suit while on the ice, so the athletes can make adjustments to posture and movements while practising.

Figure skating

Similarly, figure skaters used body motion sensors to learn about their jumps. The sensors record their movements and translate them into 3D models. Coaches and skaters can then make fine adjustments to the models and see how the jumps would change as a result. This allows the skaters to make the right adjustments and have fewer falls.

Regulation finishes outside the medals?

With these leaps that technology takes, it always seems that we are behind the eight ball when it comes to finding ways to apply existing laws and regulations which more often than not are outdated, impractical and not in step with the current environment in which we find ourselves.

The legal questions and issues raised by the use of the kinds of technology deployed at the Winter Olympics will become more prevalent. It will take a great amount of cooperation between policy makers, manufacturers, regulators and the legal profession to come up with creative and practical approaches which we can follow to navigate what will be a minefield of legal uncertainties as we progress to a more tech oriented environment.