South Korea's Cheongdo county is home to a famous bullfighting festival, but like many pastoral traditions its popularity has been waning over the years. What better way to modernize its image and attract some tourists than with some crazy robots? A team from the Korea Institute of Robot and Convergence was tasked with developing them, and now a year and five months later – and a budget of US$400,000 – the robots have been unveiled to the public.
Korean bullfighting goes back several hundred years, and it's (thankfully) nowhere near as bloody or brutal as those with Matadors in the Spanish tradition. Two bulls, with their names painted on their flanks, are brought together with some rope but aren't compelled to fight by their trainers. Matches range from a few minutes to hours, and end when one of the bulls simply gives up.
While it's certainly not everyone's cup of tea, at least the bulls are treated relatively well. Traditionally, the bull was the most valued animal on a Korean farm, and that relationship appears to be alive and well. For example, one trainer (profiled for an article in the New York Times), said he would jog several kilometers a day with his favorite bull and fed him only the finest seafood.
The Cheongdo bullfighting robots, which are part of a larger educational kiosk, are said to be two-thirds the scale of an actual bull (2 m x 5 m x 1.5 m) and can perform head, neck, and leg movements. The system, which is installed in the local theme park, was designed to inform the public of the game rules such as how to read the roster, understanding odds when placing bets, and so on. The Cheongdo bullfighting arena seats up to 10,000 people, with the festival taking place each April.