Overview: The Tokyo Olympics are using innovation to overcome a range of challenges in a Games facing formidable obstacles, including 5G, robotics, and e-waste recycling. Each helps the Games flow smoothly during a difficult event.
The Tokyo Olympics were originally scheduled for 2020 but were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Almost immediately, work began to hold the games safely and so athletes could compete, even if fans could only watch remotely.
The challenge has been ongoing. Shortly before the games began, it was decided no spectators would be allowed to attend in person. That’s made a few innovations more important at both the athletic and technical level.
The Tokyo Games had some ambitious plans for spectators using 5G. The Games committee recruited Intel Corporation, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT), and the mobile provider NTT DOCOMO to create three 5G tools that would be used in Tokyo and beyond.
- For the sailing event, they addressed the problem of watching the event live. Since ships need to be far out in the water, watching the competition usually involves binoculars from land. The 5G team created a 12K projector that would show live video of the event on the dock.
- At the golf events, multiple cameras stream the event live while fans can pick from multiple angles. This would have assisted golf fans who were less mobile, as well as those who just wanted to keep their spot.
- And finally, at the swimming competition, augmented reality, or AR, would have streamed live event data directly to special goggles allowing spectators to both watch the event and gain a better understanding of what unfolded.
Most of this technology wasn’t rolled out for spectators but will be tested in Tokyo to be used in future games. And it promises to make the Olympics more accessible to everyone, which may be especially important in the upcoming Winter Games in 2022, which will be held in Beijing.
While Boston Dynamics may capture both the love and anxiety we have about robots every time it creates a new dance video, Japan has long been on the cutting edge of using robotics in daily life. The Tokyo Games have been seen as a way to open the door to discussing the value of robotics while also making people more comfortable with them.
The most obvious robots at the games will be the mascots. Miraitowa and Someity will both have small-scale robot avatars capable of fluid, human-like movement that includes bowing, shaking hands, and waving. They also have screens in their eyes to communicate multiple expressions. They’re carefully designed and programmed to avoid the notorious “uncanny valley,” where robots are just convincing enough to seem human, but enough details are off to unnerve people.
In particular, they’ve been designed to help children interact with the Games. A friendly face can help anxious kids get through crowds and enjoy the competition.
For athletes, the main robot they’ll interact with is the Field Support Robot, or FSR. One of the challenges for throwing events is keeping the field clear of equipment; hammers, javelins, shot puts, and other materials can’t be left on the field as they might interfere with competition. Yet removing and resetting these items, which can be heavy, takes time and can delay the games.
The FSR is designed to help the field staff keep the Games moving by tracking, locating, and hauling equipment off the field. It can also guide support staff safely through riskier areas, speeding up the process and letting the athletes play.
A more subtle way robotics are helping out is by literally pulling their own weight. Workers in several venues have been outfitted with Atoun Model Y power assist suits. These suits, which first became available in 2018, are designed to help workers lift heavy loads by placing motors at the hips. When the wearer bends over to pick something up, the suit engages the motors and, through straps connected to the hands, helps lift the load. These will be used to remove trash, carry drinks to athletes, and above all, make working at the Games safer.
Beyond making life easier, this will help Atoun with its other assistive robotics projects by collecting data in field conditions. The company is working on suits to help the elderly walk, for example, and knowing how their suits work when people wear them will mean better assisted living down the road.
Every medal, at every games, is meaningful in some way to the host country. For example, in 2016, the medals presented to athletes were made from materials mined in Brazil using advanced sustainable mining techniques. And the 2018 PyeongChang medals had ribbons made of traditional Korean textiles.
The Tokyo Games wanted to do something just as relevant, not just to Japan, but to the world. The growing problem of e-waste has pressed particularly heavily on the Japanese technology industry for a few reasons.
The first is that e-waste is among the worst kinds of waste in the world in terms of pollution and environmental damage. While usable devices and components can at least be repurposed in some contexts, if a device is completely unusable, disassembling and recycling it can be a difficult and expensive prospect. This is a particular problem as modern tech uses scarce resources like gold and silver that need to be recovered.
Secondly, for Japan, in particular, e-waste means the potential loss of resources that aren’t usually found domestically. As a result, the Japanese technology industry has pushed to develop some of the most advanced e-waste recycling capabilities in the world.
Those will be brought to bear at the Olympics in a particularly meaningful way. The Olympic Committee asked citizens to donate their old devices to provide the materials for the medals, to make them a symbolic gift from all of Japan. That’s taken on new meaning as the Games unfold, creating a metaphysical bond for spectators who can’t be close.
Just like innovation is key to keeping the Olympics relevant for each generation, businesses need to innovate if they want to stay ahead of the pack. To learn how your business can innovate at an Olympic level, request a demo!