It’s summer 2021. The Tokyo Games are finally here, and so are the robots.
The Japanese government may have decided against allowing human spectators in an abundance of caution, they’ll be damned if their robot overlords – I mean, underlings – won’t still play their part.
ALL PART OF THE PLAN
Not long after Japan won its bid to host the 2020 Games, the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games teamed with Japanese automaker and international Olympic sponsor Toyota to form the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project as a showcase of the country’s robotics expertise (and philosophy).
In a press release, Toyota’s Frontier Research Center Chief Nobuhiko Koga explained, “Now, as we transform into a mobility company, we are expanding our robotics efforts to provide all people with the freedom to move. ‘Mobility for all’ is not only the ‘physical’ movement of a person or thing from one location to another, but also includes ‘virtual’ mobility of a person. This provides further opportunities to experience new things, meet and interact with others, or to be ‘moved’ emotionally. At Tokyo 2020, we want to capture the imagination of spectators by providing support robots as we do our part to make the Games a success.”
These Olympic robots have a variety of functions, ranging from the purely practical to the wacky, weird, innovative, and fun.
JUST FOR FUN
It’s hard not to be impressed by the consistency of a robot shooting three-pointers (and maybe a little terrified by its wraith-like appearance? Just me?) CUE 3 has been balling since 2019, but the tech clearly still holds up, even in the presence of Olympic greatness.
ESPN’s Jeremy Willis writes of CUE 3’s Olympic debut: “At halftime of the United States’ men’s basketball loss to France, a towering robot wearing a No. 95 jersey took the ball in its giant robot hands and began draining shots like peak Stephen Curry.”
Track and field events will take advantage of the Labrador-like Field Support Robot (FSR).
Tech Crunch’s Darrell Etherington writes, “This box-on-wheels should actually play an instrumental role, specifically supporting those games that involve hurling something as far as one can throw it. FSR’s entire purpose is to take the best route possible to retrieve things like javelins and shot-puts and return them to where they’re needed once thrown and recorded. They live to fetch.” Just like Labs.
Two of FSR’s equally practical kindred will not have their mettle fully tested at this year’s Games.
Etherington calls Human Support Robot (HSR) a “robotic usher,” while companion Delivery Support Robot (DSR) in theory would help guests carry snacks and necessities to their seats. But with no visitors in the cheering section, we’ll have to imagine how an army of helpful and knowledgeable robots may or may not have judged our concession purchases.
MAYBE BOTH? OR NEITHER?
How you feel about animatronic cuteness may inform your opinion of this next category of ‘bots, but there are definitely some blurred lines when it comes to defining their purpose.
Puppet-sized mascots Miraitowa and Someity were designed by Toyota to “wave, shake hands and greet athletes and guests at Games venues and other Games-related locations,” per the official Tokyo 2020 description. The venues are off-limits for all but the essential, so it’s possible that these robotic ambassadors will be doing a lot more travel to complete their diplomatic mission.
According to USA Today’s Sudiksha Kochi: “Miraitowa is the official mascot of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Its name is based on the Japanese words ‘future’ (Mirai) and ‘eternity’ (Towa), according to Olympic Design, and its body and head contains a blue indigo ichimatsu-pattern resembling the Tokyo 2020 Games Emblem.”
Kochi also reports that Someity is the Paralympic Games mascot, named for “someiyoshino, a type of cherry blossom, and the phrase “so mighty.”
Miraitowa and Someity have facial recognition and responsiveness built-in, although they are remotely manned, which probably helps with their teleportation skills (an official talent, according to the IOC) .
T-HR3 takes these abilities, dials down the cuteness, and ups the coordination. It’s also controlled by a remote handler, although this one requires VR goggles and an exoskeleton.
Axios’ Joann Muller writes, “This humanoid robot is a lot less ‘cute’ than the mascot bots, but has a lot more potential in terms of articulation. It’s also intended to provide a remote experience of what it’s like to be at the games, and can reproduce the movements of its mascot robot counterparts in real time. T-HR3 also can stream images and sounds from the remote locations back to the Olympic site.”
Then there are the other telepresence robots, T-TR1 and T-TR2, vertical screens equipped with cameras and wheels that allow remote watchers to feel like they are in the venue, and showcase the viewer as well.
T-TR2 had its moment in the sun when it enabled an Olympic torchbearer to carry out their duties virtually when they were in the hospital, according to reporting from the Independent.