It started with the maglev train, unveiled at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Fifty-six years later, for the 2020 Olympics, Tokyo is going full-robot.
Japan has been on the cutting-edge of robotics for decades now. Earlier this summer, it opened the world’s first robot hotel, staffed almost entirely by animatronic humanoids and dinosaurs. It also introduced the world to Pepper, a life-sized robot that reads your emotions and hugs the pain away.
It shouldn’t be any wonder the greatest athletic spectacle on Earth would make use of robots, too.
At the upcoming Olympics, visitors in Tokyo’s Odaiba district will briefly live in a “universal future society,” according to a
committee in Japan’s science and technology ministry. In the makeshift robotic village, robots will help the nearly 1 million spectators carry their luggage; hail taxis, which may also be automated as self-driving cars; and offer free and instant translation services.
By 2020, Japan expects Olympics visitors will also be able to wear a tablet around the neck that can translate Japanese into 10 languages on the fly. Panasonic is spearheading the project.
And not for nothing, but since 2009 there has been a 60-foot-tall statue of the popular anime robot character Gundam standing where the Games will be held.
Here it is.
If Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has his way, humans won’t be the only competitors.
“In 2020, I would like to gather all of the world’s robots and aim to hold an Olympics where they compete in technical skills,” Abe said last summer, though he cryptically left out which events he’d like to see. “We want to make robots a major pillar of our economic growth strategy.”
That strategy includes tripling the country’s spending on robotic technology, making it a roughly a $US20.2 billion industry. Worldwide, the industrial robotics industry is poised to reach $US40 billion by 2020, and Japan has every intention of leading the charge.
As for the upcoming Olympics, the ubiquity of Tokyo’s robots will show the world on an even more personal level — past the zany news stories people may see or hear — just how seriously it’s preparing for the robot revolution.