Smart Robots Lend a Hand during the Tokyo Olympics

As the Olympic Games begin, Tokyo will be home to thousands of athletes, coaches, staff, and reporters covering the games. Mixed among them will be teams of robots doing their part to ensure the Olympics run smoothly. From staff support to visitor interaction, these robots are trained and ready to play. 


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Image credit: Toyota 

As Japan is a leader in robot development, it’s no surprise that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympic Games will showcase many of the country’s robotic inventions. Robots are already in use throughout the country, in restaurants, healthcare, transportation, and other industries. Moving them into the Olympic arena is an obvious progression.

In a partnership with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Toyota Motor Corporation announced in a statement that it is supplying the Olympic Games with robots that can handle specific jobs to improve the athletes', coaches', and staff experience. While robots and autonomous vehicles were used at the 2012 London Games, the IOC says that Tokyo will have the first robots powered by artificial intelligence.


Human Helpers                                                                                                                    

The stadium will have a fleet of Toyota’s Human Support Robots (HSRs). The HSRs will help Olympic staff and officials navigate the stadium and find their assigned spots. Toyota’s Delivery Support Robot (DSR) will transport items and remove garbage. Both robot vehicles are based on the same design, initially developed in 2012 to help elderly people manage daily activities. Toyota adapted the robotic vehicles for use at the Olympics, specifically researching ways to help people with disabilities.

Each robot stands about three feet tall, has a telescoping body that adds another foot, and can extend a robotic arm—equipped with a gripper and vacuum suction pad—about two feet. It has an LED display and can move omnidirectionally. The support robots will retrieve items from shelves and pick up litter from the ground. It can even collect trash from anyone with mobility issues. The robots can carry a payload up to about three pounds and operate for up to three hours before needing to recharge.

More than 20 of the support robots will glide through the Olympic Stadium. The HSR and DSR can be pre-programmed or respond to voice commands. They use multiple cameras and sensors to guide their path and avoid obstacles. Microphones and lights alert passersby of their movements. The robots have the added benefit of reducing in-person interactions, an underlying concern for the COVID-conscious organizers.

Game Assistance

Other robots will be assigned to the field. Toyota created the Field Support Robot (FSR) to ferry equipment to and from athletes during their events. Using artificial intelligence, the autonomous FSR will evaluate the best path to bring equipment to athletes to decrease the wait between activities and keep the events humming along. For example, it can bring a soccer or rugby ball to the field prior to kick-off, or it can retrieve items in track-and-field events, such as a discus or javelin.

black and white robot in green grassy field

Image credit: Toyota

Previous Olympic games relied on radio-controlled cars to handle these tasks, but it was unreliable. Toyota decided AI-based autonomous cars would be more efficient. The FSRs are equipped with self-driving technology and travel at a max speed of about 12 mph. They use AI-based cameras to detect people and objects. Sensors and laser beams enable them to calculate distance and angles to find the best path.

The IOC is deploying robots to make the Olympic venues easier for staff, coaches, and athletes to navigate and to improve the safety and efficiency of the events. It will also give us all a glimpse into how humans will interact with robots in the future.

  • Find out more about industrial robotic technology from Toyota.
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