Image credit: Panasonic
The presence of robots will be keenly felt at this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, fueled by a partnership between the Tokyo Organizing Committee, governmental groups, Toyota Motor Corporation, and Panasonic. Dubbed the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project, the group’s mission is to show on a global stage how robots and humans can successfully interact.
“Robots should not overwhelm people,” Tokyo Olympics Vice General Director Masaaki Komiya has said. “Robots are something that have an amicable relationship with human beings and can work together.”
Toyota and Panasonic are bringing robots equipped with artificial intelligence to the games. Their aim is to highlight the tasks robots can take on when they are more fully integrated in our work and daily living experiences. The companies have developed robots that provide human assistance, aid people with disabilities, bring people together, and entertain.
To ease the stress of repetitive lifting, Panasonic spin-off ATOUN Inc. is providing Power Assist Suits to the Paralympic Games. The ATOUN Model Y exoskeleton fits like a large backpack with straps around the waist and legs that support the suit and align the sensors. The sensors trigger built-in motors and pulleys to move with the wearer, lessening strain when lifting heavy objects. Olympic staffers will wear the Power Assist Suits to move luggage, stock concessions, and transport equipment and other heavy items.
The exoskeletons also will be used to assist athletes. During the Paralympic World Para Powerlifting events, assistants add weights to competitors’ barbells, and they can add and remove more than 100 weight plates during the competition. The exoskeleton provides support for the waist and lower back, making it easier and faster for the assistants to adjust weights.
The exoskeletons aren’t the only robotic game in town. Even the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic mascots are robots. Designed by Toyota, the blue Miraitowa and pink Someity robotic mascots will rotate through the Olympic venues welcoming and interacting with people. The 2-foot-tall robots have multiple joints that enable flexible movement. Handlers operate them via remote control, and they can react to each other and with visitors.
A camera on the mascot’s head enables it to recognize people, and it can react using pre-programmed facial expressions, using the eyes to display hearts or other emotions, or nod and wave. The mascots synchronize their eye movements with the operator, so they can lock eyes with a visitor and wave to them.
Also operated by a handler is Toyota’s life-size T-HR3. The humanoid robot follows the movements of the human operator, who wears an exoskeleton, special shoes, and virtual reality goggles to interact with the T-HR3. The robot has a camera integrated in its “head” to support the VR capabilities; the shoes have multiple sensors and accelerometers to enable the robot to walk. Toyota claims the T-HR3 will be able to converse with people and high-five athletes.
Image credit: Toyota
To give remote fans virtual access to the action, Toyota is bringing the T-TR1 remote location communication robot to the Games. The T-TR1 features a tall display screen that sits atop a robotic base with wheels. The screen is equipped with cameras, speakers, and embedded microphones to support conversation and interaction between two locations. The image of a lucky remote user can be projected on the screen, enabling that user to virtually participate in the Olympic festivities.
The robot is part of Toyota’s “Mobility for All” campaign, and the company plans to use T-TR1 to give kids with physical disabilities an immersive Olympic experience. It was used in early April during the Olympic Torch Relay as Toyota President Akio Toyoda virtually passed the Olympic flame to Shunsuke Suzuki, a teenage boy with a disability that requires him to use a wheelchair.
In fact, many of the robotic devices showcased at the Olympics stemmed from research and development around enhancing the lives of people with disabilities. It seems fitting that these robots will shine at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.