Punters visiting the Cheltenham Festival race event on Friday are in for a surprise – they will get to meet the world’s first horse-riding robot jockey.
The jockey was made by BetBright as part publicity stunt, part nod to the future.
Taking three months to create, the prototype jockey has been constructed from lightweight steel and can hold on to the horse, move, see via one eye and even talk to other racegoers.
Marcus Brennan, chief executive officer of BetBright, said: “Just as BetBright is using the latest technology and AI to enhance our customers’ experience, it is clear that future advancements in technology and AI will open a world of new possibilities for enhancing the sports themselves for the fans.
“In just under three months, we have been able to build a state-of-the-art prototype of a robot jockey that can gallop on a horse, make fluid turns and even jump fences. It really is an incredible piece of technology.”
With more than a passing resemblance to the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, the robot can ride a horse at speeds of up to 30 miles an hour while jumping fences up to four feet high, BetBright claims.
However, there has been more than a little tension directed at these claims, as uncovered by Horse and Hound magazine, which declared the robot jockey to be “a PR stunt”.
The magazine said: “The creepy spectacle raised concerns among social media users about the ethics surrounding the idea. However, while BetBright is claiming the robot can ride and jump fences, the reality is a little different.”
Horse and Hound has spoken to the co-founder of the Centre of Horseback Combat, where the jockey was assembled, before being reassembled on the horse in smaller pieces so the horse could get used to the unusual situation. To start with, the rider was partially built into the saddle and while the balance sensors were operating, its arm movement mechanism was not switched on.
Importantly, horses at the center are also trained to take part in stunts and trick riding for displays at shows and on film and television. So presumably there was no real need for the jockey to engage the horse.
Delight for crowds
Still, the robot jockey is expected to delight the crowds at Cheltenham on Friday 16 March; it will be adjacent to the parade ring in the bookies’ activation area.
In a video produced by BetBright to launch the new rider, and available on the Mirror online, snooker player and BetBright Cup Ireland captain, Ken Doherty, said: “It would be weird to see robot jockeys at Cheltenham one day but you never know, anything can happen. I mean we’ve had robots in snooker for years, Steve Davis being the ultimate one.”
Rich Ricci, BetBright chairman was equally astounded. He said: “I had expected the robot jockey to be able to ride, but I never expected it to be able to jump fences or talk to me about upcoming races.
“It will be fascinating to see how robotics and AI continue to evolve and the impact it will have on multiple sports.”
Although it will not be entering the robot jockey this year, BetBright believes that they could be competing against humans by 2030 after the company commissioned a report by renowned futurologist Dr Ian Pearson, to investigate.
It stated that robot jockeys “have the potential to compete with and even beat the best jockeys in the world”.