Tokyo Olympics Pushes Forward Robotics

By Talicia Marie Stewart

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — With the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project sending big companies like Toyota and Panasonic into a manufacturing frenzy, there are a lot of innovative ideas to look out for at the Olympics this year. The Tokyo vision is ambitious to say the least, but Japan promises that this year’s games will be the most technologically advanced the world has ever seen.

To start with, Panasonic has successfully created, what they call power-assist suits, created for the purpose of helping workers carry heavy objects at airports, factories, construction, and agricultural sites with a decreased risk of injury.

Panasonic introduced power-assist suits in 2017 at the Paralympics in the powerlifting events. It is estimated that the spotters/loaders handled more than 8,650 kilograms collectively, while helping the 180 powerlifters. In order to reduce the risk of injury and make the job a little easier, the spotters/loaders wore the suits and noted that “even 25 kilograms felt lighter than usual”. The suit only weighs 4.5 kilograms and allows for a 40% weight reduction when lifting items.

Toyota, on the other hand, has developed the new mascots for the games. First made by the Japanese artist Ryo Taniguchi, whose design was won in a competition of more than two thousand candidates, Toyota quickly went onto developing and produce Miraitowa and Someity. These two mascot-type Robots will be implemented to greet athletes and customers to the games. They will offer a variety of facial expressions and “human-like movements” such as waving and bowing. They can shake your hand when prompted and even dance when asked. As well as welcoming athletes and guests to the games, Miraitowa and Someity also offer a new way to make the events more enjoyable for children.

For everyone to fully enjoy the games, Toyota has also developed human and delivery support robots. Though not as cute as the mascots, these little guys were designed to assist guests, providing “mobility solutions” for people with disabilities. For a portion of the accessible seating, they will show people to their seats, bring food, water, and even sell souvenirs. Although Toyota made these robots with the aim of exhibiting them into the Olympics, they also hope they will be available to the general public by 2030.

As well as the human support, Toyota (at it again) has developed field-support robots. Equipped with autonomous functions, these special-use robots work at the throwing events (i.e. javelin). They determine the optimal route that is without obstacles and follow operating staff to retrieve and convey throwing event items. By using these little fellers, the aim is to reduce the amount of time needed in retrieving items as well as minimizing the amount of staff labor. But that’s not it for Toyota.

Telepresence robots are not a new thing (they date back to 1993), but Toyota Research Institute in America has specifically designed their remote location communication for people who are unable to attend the Olympics. The screen is way bigger than any we’ve seen before and allows for full (sitting) body view. By projecting an image of the user onto the screen it will help them feel more connected and present in the games, even if they aren’t there in person. It will give physically unable people a chance to attend virtually “with an on-screen facility allowing conversations between the two locations.”

Finally, moving away from the innovations of Toyota, a study done by Ovum for Amdocs reveals that 63% of the world’s largest network operators’ plan to use Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), or a hybrid of both, to view the games. These technologies will be supported by 5G to offer richer viewing experiences to fans. It offers a more interactive way to view the games like; audience members could watch “instant replays and 360-degree streams” or “look up player stats via AR and VR technology” bringing them closer to the action. 5G promises speeds ten times faster than 4G with even lower latency. You should expect to see the first of these services in conjunction with the 2020 Games.

Mitsubishi Electric is still trying to manufacture the replicate holograms. These systems would project large, free-floating holograms into the air and replay events in empty stadia around the country for those that could not attend the games. Panasonic also plans to showcase a cooling system that is water mist based. Supposedly, it would not settle on glass, paper or make-up. They are also rushing to perfect a device that guides wear around their necks, it would translate Japanese into any of ten languages. But the most exciting thing that we have yet to see, something people have been talking about for years… flying cars.

Back at Toyota, a team of engineers “hopes to build a flying car in time to light the Olympic flame.” But from recent reports it doesn’t look like it’s going to be as grand as might be hoped. It is also looking to be the world’s smallest electric vehicle. But progress is still progress and a flying car is a flying car.

There is still time for development on these projects, but with only a few months left the finishing touches should start being applied quickly. Japan seems on track to keep it’s promise; these will be the most technologically advanced Olympics so far.

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