Not only is the Super Bowl an annual display of athleticism, team and brand loyalty, and popular culture, but it’s also a showcase for up-and-coming technologies, from Apple’s classic “1984” ad to more recent commercials around the cloud.
Super Bowl LI was no exception, as robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) were sprinkled throughout the Fox broadcast.
Note that we’re not talking about the big data analytics behind the scenes or AI used to cover this and other sporting events. Here are our top seven uses of robotics and AI that were teased during Super Bowl LI. What were your favorite moments of the game and its associated commercials? Which technologies do you think are actually coming soon? Let us know!
1. Ford shows off self-driving cars
As the fifty-first Super Bowl began, Ford showed off all the ways it is working to improve the driving experience, including driver-assist features such as hands-free parking and a brief look at a self-driving car with no steering wheel.
Like the other big automakers and tech companies such as Google and Uber that are chasing self-driving vehicles and testing them in California and elsewhere, it didn’t say exactly when Level 5 autonomy will be available. But the commercial is clearly preparing the public to expect such innovations within the next few years.
2. H&R Block teams up with IBM Watson
Jon Hamm has been hamming it up for the tax-preparation service for some months now, but he played it straight in a commercial airing early in the big game. IBM Watson has been offering AI as a service to the healthcare and customer service, and its team-up with H&R Block is another application.
The fancy graphics didn’t really explain how Watson will help people get their taxes prepared, but it’s safe to assume it’s intended to help track the ever shifting local and federal tax codes and find ways to save money.
3. Dartmouth demos Mobile Virtual Player
The NFL has been trying to burnish its reputation after recent scandals around concussions. As part of that, there was a brief glimpse of a robotic tackle dummy developed at Dartmouth College and already used by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
By promising to make American football safer, the league hopes that parents will continue to encourage their children to play and that audiences will watch without feeling guilty or worrying about injured players.
4. Drones back Lady Gaga at halftime
Things looked pretty grim for the New England Patriots, with the Atlanta Falcons having a sizeable lead. Fans of both teams could take respite in Lady Gaga’s acrobatic halftime performance, which started with her singing and jumping from the roof of Houston’s NRG Stadium.
In addition to Lady Gaga’s wire work, the tech stars of that performance were 300 aerial drones that moved around, shining colored lights to form the U.S. flag, the Pepsi logo, and more. The impressive feat of aerobatics, powered by Intel, could also explain why the no-fly zone around the stadium was so large for other would-be drone pilots and photographers.
Intel also provided support for immersive video coverage of the game.
5. Wealthsimple offers automated investing
Somewhat less sexy was Canadian investment company’s launch of Wealthsimple, which offered AI-powered automated investing services during a third-quarter commercial.
Canada has made AI research and development a priority, and as with the IBM Watson use above, automated business services are spreading just as fast as industrial automation. PwC and analyst firms expect the use of AI in financial services to grow quickly in the next few years.
6. Amazon Prime Air promises drone deliveries soon
— Amazon Echo (@amazonecho) February 6, 2017
Late in the game, as the Pats turned it around, Amazon aired an amusing ad showing people needing to order things for immediate delivery. It briefly stated that Amazon Prime Air deliveries are “coming soon” but didn’t specify a launch date.
Amazon has been testing its drone deliveries, but not much is known yet about how its rollout would proceed nationwide and what types of neighborhoods will receive service. It’s also not the only model for robotic delivery, since Starship and others are working on ground-based models. However, Amazon’s scale means that everyone is taking it seriously.
7. Hyundai provides telepresence for U.S. troops
In a heartwarming commercial at the end of the game, Hyundai showed soldiers stationed in Poland watching the game and talking about missing their families. A few soldiers were tapped on the shoulder and led into a room with wraparound screens. Then, their families joined them via telepresence.
The ad cut to a camera at the stadium, as well as with family members. This strong demonstration of the power of telepresence also shows how companies such as Hyundai are using robotics and related technologies to diversify beyond automaking.