One Year Away, Tokyo Preps Robotics Tech for 2020 Summer Games

Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympic games.

July 23, 2019      

During the 1964 Summer Olympic Games, Tokyo touted the games as a showcase of innovation and a boast of Japan’s reconstruction following World War II. Some 56 years later, Japan plans on following this track by displaying modern innovations, including robotics and e-mobility technologies, at next year’s 2020 Summer Games.

Tokyo 2020 Summer Games logoThe 2020 games, are set to begin in about a year (July 24 – Aug. 9, 2020). An article in The Guardian reported that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the London Olympics in 2012 to study some of the designs, as well as the intrinsic costs associated with the infrastructure. They have a high bar to reach to meet expectations based on their success in ‘64. To that end, part of the technology on display at the event will be two futuristic vehicles: the e-Palette and Concept-i.

A Parade of Innovative Vehicles

Toyota has been designated as the official mobility partner for the games. One item to be showcased by the Japanese auto giant is the Concept-I, which was introduced in 2017 at CES in Las Vegas. It’s an egg-shaped electric vehicle that uses artificial intelligence to sense the driver’s mood and react accordingly.

A range of different mobility vehicles planned to be displayed at the 2020 Summer Olympics. Image: Toyota

The e-Palette, which was featured at this year’s CES, is a Level 4 self-driving urban people mover. It will be put to work ferrying officials, athletes, and VIPs to various events and venues within the Olympic Games.

Toyota will also showcase vehicles already on the market at different sites throughout the city, and they’ll send out a convoy of assistive vehicles. These vehicles are some of the lowest emissions vehicle fleet used in any Olympics to date. Toyota plans to show off its i-ROAD electric one-seater vehicle that will help support Toyota staff.

The Many Faces of Robots

The Toyota brand will also employ other robotic feats of technology in a functional way. Namely, assistance robots will help the masses by answering questions and helping them get around. Assistance robots with a humanoid touch have come a long way in the last decade; the summer event in Tokyo will be an opportune time to see the advancement of this robotic technology in action.

Toyota’s human support robots are also expected to be showcased at the Olympics in 2020. Image: Toyota

Panasonic plans to dispatch two types of robots, as well as other technology. The robots will be assistive in nature and lead spectators to their seats. They will also serve as the portage for food and drink within the stadium area. Additionally, delivery service robots (DSR) that resemble a waste can will move things around from one place to another.

Known for its humanoid robots, Japan will take advantage of the event to also feature a human support robot. It is able to pick up trays and baskets and move them around within the stadium environment. In total, it’s expected that 16 kinds of robots will be utilized at the Tokyo Olympic sites in 2020.

“It is very appropriate for Japan to showcase robotics at the Summer Olympics,” said Jory Denny, a University of Richmond computer science professor and robotics expert. “Japan is a leader in robotics research almost since the beginning. Their country and culture allow robotics to become pervasive in society. I am excited to see what they do. Japan will likely follow suit to what Korea established at the last Winter Olympics, so hopefully they will bring some new and exciting advances.”

Panasonic assist suits will be used at workers at the 2020 Summer Olympics. Image: Panasonic

Panasonic’s Power Assist Suits aren’t a robot in the traditional sense, but serve as exoskeletons to aid workers in heavy lifting and other tasks that otherwise would be difficult. Panasonic believes that these suits will demonstrate how exoskeletons might be useful for an aging population, where performance and capability may be challenging in later years. Panasonic touts the suits as improving work performance by as much as 20%.

Drone Jamming?

Another interesting use of technology, though in a very different way, will be anti-terrorist advances. This security issue wasn’t exactly a threat in their 1964 Olympics. Now, it is.

The Japanese government has prohibited the use of drones from the events for all unauthorized uses such as photography and other applications. But Japanese intelligence may be using some sophisticated tactics as countermeasures to avert anyone who may try to use drones, or any other technology for that matter.

Japan’s National Police Agency expects to employ jammers against drones in an effort to avoid terrorist attacks. The jamming will emit radio signals between drones and operators in designated no-fly zones that will block signals and disallow any unmanned aircraft from approaching a designated target. Such drones will be taken down and returned to the violators.

Though the technology can be costly, the National Police Agency has experience in intercepting drones. In April 2015, a drone operated by a man protesting the government’s nuclear energy policy was found on the roof of the prime minister’s office in Tokyo. From this event, Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department was able to later introduce their first large drone designed to catch suspicious drones with a net. It also set up a dedicated unit to deal with unmanned aerial vehicles. While precautionary at this point, it is expected to be in full swing as part of their antiterrorist activity.

Japan is putting tremendous effort to capitalize on an event where all eyes in the world will be focused during the few weeks of July and August 2020. They’ll be using the event as an opportunity to make a national statement about their spirit of innovation, and that good things are derived from the technological culture that Japan has nurtured.