Athletes may be the focus of the Olympics, but in recent years the competition has also become an important technology showcase for tech savvy host countries. Nowhere will that be more true than in Tokyo, host of the upcoming 2020 Games.
This month, the organizing committee announced the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project, a collaboration between Toyota, Panasonic, and several Japanese government entities that will bring robots front and center while all eyes are on Tokyo. Japan, of course, is a world leader in industrial automation and autonomous mobile robots, and the models selected by Toyota and Panasonic to participate in the showcase will be familiar to industry watchers.
What will be novel is the size of the deployment and the opportunity the Games affords to create a real-life laboratory for human-robot interaction.
"This project will not simply be about exhibiting robots, but showcasing their practical real-life deployment helping people," said Hirohisa Hirukawa, leader of the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project. "So there will be not only sports at the Tokyo 2020 Games, but some cool robots at work to look forward to as well."
The 2018 Games in Korea also saw robots cleaning floors around the Olympic Village and patrolling airports and train stations offering help.
The HSR platform is designed to offer assistance in fields like nursing and elder care, as well as in daily life. The mobile robot can pick up and carry objects and will be utilized during the Games to help spectators with physical disabilities navigate stadiums. The DSR, which looks a bit like a trash can on the Death Star, will deliver food and beverages to guests who might have difficulty retrieving items themselves.
Panasonic will deploy its Power Assist Suits during the Paralympic Games. A wearable robotic device, the suit is a powered-hip exoskeleton that reduces strain and lightens perceived loads for users lifting heavy and bulky objects, such as luggage.
"As the first Paralympic Worldwide Partner in Japan, Panasonic aims to contribute to the success of the Tokyo 2020 Games through our solutions," says Masahiro Ido, Executive Officer of Panasonic. "We strongly believe that our robot technology–including Power Assist Suits, which constitute one of our sponsorship contributions–will be of use to all people regardless of impairments, and to society in general, becoming a legacy for future generations."
The robotics industry is particularly important to Japan. In recent years the country has accounted for as much as 50 percent of the global supply of robots while importing very few robotic systems. But as China and players in North and South America increase native development and rely less on imports, Japan finds its market share slipping.
That makes the Tokyo Olympics, which global viewers will tune in to expecting excellence, an important stage for Japanese automation.