Cheering robots replace real fans at Korean baseball
- 25 July 2014
- From the section Technology
A struggling Korean baseball team have invented a novel way to improve atmosphere at their matches - by bringing in a crowd of robot fans.
Hanwha Eagles supporters not able to get to the stadium can control the robot over the internet.
The bots can cheer, chant and perform a Mexican wave - but presumably not invade the pitch.
One expert said giving more fans a chance to "attend" was important for professional clubs.
This was especially the case with top football teams, Matt Cutler, editor of SportBusiness International, told the BBC.
"If you look at all the big clubs, you can't just get a season ticket - you have to sit on a waiting list.
"There is also potential monetisation. You can charge, even if it's a small amount, to give fans a different kind of viewpoint."
Football fan John Hemmingham, who runs the famous England supporters brass band, saw the funny side.
"What happens if a robotic fan misbehaves?" he joked.
"Gets aggressive, abusive, spills a drink... I can see it being fraught with danger. What if it sits in the wrong section? A robotic hooligan!"
It is not easy being a Hanwha Eagles fan. In the past five years, they have suffered more than 400 losses - so many that fans of the team are regarded with a degree of sympathy, and have earned the nickname Buddhist Saints.
Less friendly opposition fans describe them as the Hanwha Chickens.
But those who cannot make it to the stadium now have the option of having a robot stand in for them.
As well as being able to control some robot movements, fans can upload their own face to the machine.
Sport for all
While the robots supporting Hanwha will be dismissed as a gimmick by most diehard fans of any sport, there are other, more serious attempts to help more people experience matches.
As part of Japan's unsuccessful bid for the 2022 World Cup, the country said it hoped to re-create live matches using holographic technology in other locations. It would mean, in theory, that several stadiums full of fans could be watching the same match at once.
Development on the technology was halted when Japan lost its bid, with Fifa instead choosing Qatar to host the 2022 tournament.
Independent experts were sceptical the virtual reality plan could have ever worked - but praised the ambition.
In the nearer term, simple technology additions to stadiums and arenas are already changing how we enjoy sport.
"Within a short amount of time, nearly every Premier League stadium will have wi-fi," said Mr Cutler.
"Everyone's got a phone with them, checking other things. The days have gone where people are completely engrossed in the match."
Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC