Tokyo’s Robot Olympics

Japan is s global leader in robotics, and the Tokyo Olympics were intended to showcase this fact. Pink and Blue robot mascots were going to greet human participants and impress people. There are also field support robots to fetch thrown objects like javelins. Other robots were intended to flesh out the virtual experience and make the games more fun for children.

The plans haven’t exactly changed, but there won’t be any human spectators around for the humans to interact with. The robots were ready with handshaking and human-like facial expressions reacting to the presence of humans nearby. Now they may have to be reprogrammed to react to one another instead.

The big picture

“The Tokyo 2020 Games are a unique opportunity for us to display Japanese robot technology,” said Hirohisa Hirukawa, leader of the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project. “This project will not simply be about exhibiting robots, but showcasing their practical real-life deployment helping people. So, there will not only be sports at the Tokyo 2020 Games, but some cool robots at work to look forward to as well.’”

Toyota is a partner in this effort. They’re trying to move beyond being seen just as a car company. Instead, they want to be known as a “mobility company.” Their statement on this aspiration says they want to “cherish ‘the sense of agency’ of human.” But they also want to provide mobility to people who need support in this area, and to create new technology infrastructure to support robots in cities.

Their work for the Olympics is in “partner robot technology.” This includes a basketball-playing robot and a supportive robot for a special-needs torchbearer, as well as the support robots already mentioned above.

The 2021 Olympics

The postponed Olympics will take place, even without human spectators. Olympic staff will use robotic exoskeleton suits to help them load and unpack heavy objects. Delivery robots will carry food and drink

Augmented reality will help the few spectators fully appreciate the swimming competitions, and giant screens will improve the experience of the sailing matches.

Facial recognition systems, autonomous vehicles, and instant automatic translation will also be featured.

The organizers’ greatest challenge will be making sure the robots get enough exposure to meet their goal.