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Meet the robots of the Tokyo Olympics

The postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will give Japan the opportunity to showcase its expertise in robotics and autonomous vehicles.

The Tokyo robots, developed by automaker Toyota, will be deployed in specific roles during the postponed 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, but the project is expected to demonstrate their potential for wider application in everyday life.

Toyota, the global partner of the Games, is on a mission to empower and enhance human capabilities through its range of robots. “The Tokyo 2020 Games are a unique opportunity for us to showcase Japanese robotics technology,” said Hirohisa Hirukawa, leader of the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project.

“This project is not just about displaying robots, but showing their hands-on real-life commitment to helping people. So not only will there be sports at the Tokyo 2020 Games, but there will also be some cool robots at work to look forward to.” The official mascots of the games are two robots capable of expressive human interaction. 

They will act as meeters and greeters, providing the inevitable selfie opportunities for the few spectators who can attend the Games in person. The little blue puppet-sized Miraitowa and the pink Someity are adorable, wide-eyed bots that will welcome athletes and visitors to the venues.

The remote-controlled robot entertainers are specially designed to appeal to children. It’s hardly advanced robotics, but a built-in camera recognizes faces and facial expressions and can respond with blinks, nods of the head and handshakes.

T-HR3 is a life-size humanoid robot that has been in development since 2017. Tomohisa Moridaira leads Toyota’s research and development group, which is working on both the T-HR3 and the mascot robots. Both are remotely controlled while interacting with humans and mirror the movements of their human ‘handlers’.

“The Tokyo 2020 delay has allowed us to continue to improve the T-HR3. We have reduced the weight in the arms and legs of the Master Maneuvering System to make it easier for the operator to experience the interaction with T-HR3 through VR glasses,” says Moridaira.

“We now have much better haptic feedback. Controllers say it’s like using their real hand, with real sensations.” Walking the robot is easy, and training shoes equipped with multiple sensors, including accelerometers, are used to relay instructions to the robot.

According to Toyota, the T-HR3 will be able to give athletes a high-five and even hold a conversation. “Looking forward, we believe there will be a high demand for robots that can perform delicate tasks in safe interactions with humans,” Moridaira added.

“These robots are designed with redundant degrees of freedom, which means most of its joints can continue to work even if a few components stop working.” Essentially, the mascots and T-HR3 are avatar robots controlled by remote human operators via VR and an exoskeleton that will mirror the remote robot.

Developed by the Toyota Research Institute in the US, the T-TR1 is a telepresence robot that allows some of those who cannot attend in person, i.e. most of the world’s population, to communicate virtually with athletes.

A large, vertical screen shows a live view of the participant from a distance, and a camera on top gives the feeling of being there. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to use the wheeled communicator, Toyota says users can move around a location with the robot displaying a near-life-size representation of itself.

The next in team Toyota robot is a mechanical waiter and accessibility aid – Delivery Support Robot or DSR. DSR supplies the spectators with food and drinks in a number of wheelchair accessible seats and is controlled by an app.

Its partner, Human Support Robot, will escort the guests requiring mobility assistance to their seats and help them enjoy the match freely by providing timely event information.

The 500 seats served by these robots at the athletic events of both the Olympic and Paralympic games means that thousands of people will be assisted by them.

“We believe the robots will help spectators in wheelchairs watch the events without any restrictions, soak up the atmosphere in the stadiums and feel the excitement of sports,” said Nobuhiko Koga, chief officer of the Frontier Research Center at Toyota. 

They look a lot like miniature cars, and on the actual playing field, special-use robots will act as Field Event Support robots, following the operations personnel and autonomously navigating to achieve javelin or shot put thrown by competitors.

The goal is to reduce both the time it takes to retrieve items for throwing events and the number of staff deployed in this area, thus speeding up competition. These robots were developed by Toyota in collaboration with the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Outside of the main arenas, transportation of athletes and support staff such as coaches and team managers to and from their accommodations will go to the Toyota e-Palette. This is an autonomous vehicle that will provide circular service transport for the Olympic and Paralympic villages, transporting athletes to and from the main stadiums.

Able to carry up to 20 passengers, or four wheelchairs and seven standing passengers, for safety reasons one operator will always be on board in case human intervention is required. To keep stress levels low, the vehicles feature relaxing and soothing lights and color schemes and no music is played.

Because the wide door opens at stops, more than half of the air in the cabin is vented and antiviral coatings and films are used at frequent touch points to prevent transmission of Covid-19.

At the heart of all Toyota designs is ‘genchi genbutsu’ – going to the source to get the facts. During the development of the e-Palette, Toyota underwent a series of continuous improvements following feedback from test drivers, ranging from exceptionally tall basketball players to wheelchair users.

To accommodate the diversity of users, the backrests in the interior and the height of the seats can be changed as needed. Each vehicle is 5.25m long, 2m wide and 2.76m high and can travel 150km before needing to be charged. We were told that the e-Palettes accelerate and decelerate exceptionally smoothly “as if there were an experienced driver at the wheel,” according to a Toyota spokesperson.

So far so autonomous. The smart thing is in the fleet’s operational system that manages the interactions of multiple vehicles with the Just-in-Time Mobility service. This consists of two components: the Autonomous Mobility Management System (AMMS) that directs vehicles when needed, where they are needed and in the required numbers.

There is a pre-planned route frequency, but if the number of passengers starts to increase at a particular bus stop, AMMS will adjust the schedule, sending additional e-Palettes in real time, reducing congestion and shortening waiting time. AMMS also prevents bunching or uneven spacing when additional vehicles are added to the mix, so there are no more three buses passing at once.

If a breakdown occurs, those vehicles will automatically return to the depot and replacements will be sent out. One person in the operation control center can monitor and manage multiple vehicles simultaneously, enabling a safe operation with fewer employees. E-palettes are designed in the opposite way to conventional cars, with the software platform designed first and then the hardware.

After the Games are over, Toyota plans to explore the use of the e-Palette model to solve the problem of the shortage of delivery people by deploying them as mobile delivery lockers and even as mobile stores serving home-bound customers. .

Undoubtedly, this collection of robots will showcase Toyota’s expertise in a hands-on demonstration of robots that interact safely and reliably with humans on many levels, even if not at the cutting edge of advanced robotics. The eyes of the world will be on Tokyo, so it’s understandable that not too many risks are taken.

There is little doubt, however, that Toyota’s fleet of mechanical helpers and entertainers will capture the imagination of viewers around the world, as well as the lucky few who will be able to meet them in person.



Gundam Robot

If cute little robots aren’t your thing, then just south of Tokyo is Yokohama Harbor, which is home to the baseball and softball leagues. Nearby Yamashita Pier is home to a 1:1 replica of a fictional Gundam robot (pictured below).

The antithesis of cute, the 25-ton, 18.2-meter-tall animatronic robot was brought to life by an interdisciplinary team of roboticists, engineers and creatives. His hands alone are 2 meters long. The Mobile Suit Gundam, built by the Gundam Factory on site, first appeared in an anime series in 1979.

The challenge was to bring such an iconic robot to life without a large number of fans of the fictional character around the world. to disappoint the world. Akinori Ishii has been the technical director of the project since 2018. He played with plastic Gundam models as a schoolboy. “Developing Gundam was a dream project for me.

” Masaki Kawahara, creative director at the Gundam Factory, was in charge of the overall design of the behemoth, a replica of its fictional self. When asked about the technical challenges in construction, he said: “It has a lot of motors and drive gears in the mechanism, but we also had to focus on the aesthetics, designing something that looked authentic, but with spaces and shapes that fit.

the motors and gears in. It also had to be light enough to move.” The giant robot, model number RX-78F00, has 18 flexible joints in its hands alone, plus 24 other moving joints, allowing it to walk, turn its head, and raise its arms among other things, but extraordinary for something of its size and weight. , the robot can kneel. Especially impressive at night.

The RX-78F00 performs twice an hour, and visitors can go through the towering portal to a walkway and look down on this impressive feat of manipulated anime.



Back-boosting exoskeleton

Panasonic subsidiary Atoun will showcase its back-friendly exoskeleton (pictured below) in Tokyo 2020. The wearable robot weighs less than 5 kg and has sensors in the waist and lower back that monitor the user’s movements.

The Atoun Model Y was originally designed to protect workers’ backs from repetitive lifting movements in logistics or in factory and agricultural environments. One sensor detects the wearer’s posture and is mounted in the frame of the exoskeleton near the lower back.

Additional angle sensors are mounted on the waist and all combine to assess the wearer’s movement. Compact, high-efficiency brushless motors are used to assist the wearer by pulling or pushing in the right places on the shoulders or thighs, depending on their task.

When the wearer starts to walk, the angle sensor at the waist detects this and the motor support is switched off until it is needed again. The design reduces the load on the lower back with a force of up to 10 kg.

Following a successful trial at the Para Powerlifting World Cup in Manchester 2020, the wearable will be used by support staff who must repeatedly lift, adjust and manipulate the weights on the power bars to be lifted by the participants.

It will also be used behind the scenes at the airport for baggage handling; and in the sports village for carrying luggage.