Tokyo 2020 Olympics: Meeting the Robots That Will Help Guests, Workers

The Japanese government and Tokyo 2020 organizers recently announced the launch of the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project, with designs from Toyota and Panasonic highlighted during the announcement.

At least 16 units of the Toyota Human Support Robot (HSR) will help wheelchair spectators carry food and bags, usher visitors to their seats, and distribute event organization. Workers in the athletes’ village and “related facilities and airports” will use the battery-powered Panasonic Power Assist Suit exoskeleton, designed to help humans lift and transport heavy items with less reduced physical strain. Physical “efficiency” is improved around 20 percent, so longer durations of sustained lifting can be completed.

Despite a relatively narrow use in Tokyo, promoters hope to demonstrate the potential for more common usage of next-level robot technology.

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

Hirohisa Hirukawa, leader of the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project

Additional robots to be deployed in Tokyo next summer are expected to be introduced later this year.

I’ve written in the past that Tokyo 2020 officials hoped to use the summer games next year as a tech and robotics showcase on the international stage. Following a similar trend during the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, where robots received increased use, the Japanese want to demonstrat more practical use of robot technology. I think it’s important for researchers to demonstrate how robots can be used on a daily basis to improve lives, and robots tasks with basic functionality to help guests is a calculated promotional strategy.

Japan is a leader in global robotics development, but has urgent problems to address themselves: a shrinking worker population and increasing age of the elderly. Previously, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Atsushi Yasuda, mentioned the “opportunity” to lead the way in R&D so the country’s technologies are being exported to other countries.

[ Image courtesy of: Tokyo 2020 / Ryo Ichikawa ]

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