Tokyo wants to woo you with robots

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If you’re lucky to attend the Olympic Games in Tokyo next summer, expect to see robots. A lot of robots.

The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games unveiled the “Tokyo 2020 Robot Project” this March, a collaborative effort between governments and corporations to deliver an experience audiences are “unlikely to forget,” according to its press release.

Human Support Robot and Delivery Robot will be the stars of the stadiums. Developed by Toyota Motor Corporation, they will guide spectators to their seats and provide general event information. They can even help those in wheelchairs carry food and other items.

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The Delivery Robot helps people in wheelchairs carry food and drinks. (Courtesy of the Tokyo 2020 International Communications Team )

Nobuhiko Koga,  Chief Officer of Frontier Research Center, Toyota, said the company hopes to provide “the freedom to move for everyone” through robot-enabled mobility solutions and help disabled spectators enjoy the games with no restrictions.

Panasonic Corporation’s robots are in charge of backstage heavy lifting duties instead. The Power Assist Suits are designed to help human carry heavy items more easily without breaking their backs, providing a “healthier and safer working environment.” From transporting food, drinks to waste disposal and hauling athlete luggages, the suits will be a valuable tool for anyone doing manual labor at the Games.

“We strongly believe that our robot technology will be of use to all people regardless of impairments, and to society in general, becoming a legacy for future generations,” said Masahiro Ido, Executive Officer of Panasonic.

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The Power Assist Suit will ease human workload when carrying heavy objects. (Courtesy of the Tokyo 2020 International Communications Team )

Japan has always been a key player in robotics development, and the quadrennial sporting event is considered the best opportunity to showcase its robot technology to a global audience. The goal is not only to deliver the most innovative games, but also tap the potential for future robot use in all walks of society.

“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.

The aging Japanese society is in desperate need for workforce, and robots can offer solutions to the lack of working-age people.

“We need robots, because we have increasingly fewer workers,” Atsushi Yasuda, director of the Ministry of Economy’s robotics department, told the Miami Herald in 2017. “We have 76 million working-age people today, and by 2025 that number will go down to 70 million.”

The article said that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is carrying out a billion-dollar plan to turn the country into a “robotics superpower,” quadrupling the country’s production of robots by 2020.

The Tokyo 2020 Robot Project received wide-ranging support from Japan’s Cabinet Secretariat, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, as well as big companies like Panasonic and Toyota. 

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