Japan is keen to use next year’s Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games to showcase its cutting-edge technology, with Toyota, for one, readying a range of robots that it hopes will impress international visitors as well as the event’s global audience.
The company this week pulled the wraps off the latest designs of seven robots for a range of roles that include entertainment and assistance for athletes and sports fans during the month-long sporting extravaganza.
They include the Human Support Robot (HSR) and the Delivery Support Robot (DSR), versions of which we first saw a few months back. Working together, HSR features a robotic arm and hand that can reach up high to grab objects, or pick up items located on the ground. The wheel-based, meter-high robot can also act as a guide, showing spectators the way to a sports venue’s entrances and exits, or to facilities inside the arena.
DSR, meanwhile, can deliver snacks and other items ordered via a smartphone app. Also operating on wheels, DSR brings the item in a basket, whereupon the customer can either take the goods themselves or command the HSR to pass it to them.
Visitors to the Games might even find themselves chatting to robots based on the event’s mascots, Miraitowa and Someity. According to Toyota, the mascot robots can interact with humans and will work as meeters, greeters, and entertainers around some of the venues. Toyota also mentions the possibility of being able to take control of its mascot robots, which, we must admit, sounds a lot more appealing than the robots taking controlling of us.
Toyota is also developing the T-HR3 humanoid robot that will allow guests in remote or distant locations “to interact with athletes.” The company talks about the bipedal robot “providing images and sounds from remote locations” while allowing people to “converse with and high-five athletes and others, feeling as if they were truly physically present.” We’ve reached out to Toyota to find out how folks at home will be able to interact with the robot and will update this piece if we hear back.
Next up is the T-TR1 telepresence robot aimed at giving people who can’t get to the Games in person — which is nearly everyone on the planet — the chance to attend virtually.
The wheel-based robot, which looks rather like an upright vacuum cleaner, features a camera atop a large, vertical display. Those lucky enough to use it will, in theory at least, be able to move around a venue and chat with fans and possibly athletes, as well as watch events via the robot’s camera. At least, that’s the idea.
Finally, we have the Field Support Robot (FSR). In events such as the javelin, you may have seen small remote-controlled cars fetching the javelin and taking it back to the athlete. The FSR will do the same job, but instead use autonomous technology to find its way around the field. The machine looks much like a smaller version of Toyota’s box-shaped, autonomous e-Palette vehicle designed for ridesharing and meal delivery, among other things.
Toyota’s high-tech efforts are part of the “Tokyo 2020 Robot Project,” an initiative led by the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Games that brings together robotics experts with the Tokyo Metropolitan government and various Olympic Games partners. It’s hard to say how useful the robots will really be at next year’s Olympics, but the event gives Toyota a chance to put its technologies in the spotlight as it further develops the various systems that power them.
The robots are part of Toyota’s plan to become a mobility company using cutting-edge robotics, a strategy similar to the one adopted by fellow Japanese automaker Honda, among others.
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