The Japanese press has been scrambling recently to provide the latest updates about the country's plans to deploy a fleet of robots to support the fast-approaching 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Plans from the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games are now in full swing, and as this will be the first time this type of support has been provided in the history of the games, the experience so far has been a new and thrilling one. “We want to make the Games a showcase of robots,” a source connected to the committee relayed.
The most surprising (and definitely the most controversial) development, which came in the form of an announcement made by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) back in October, involved plans to form a joint cooperation with Japanese tech firm Fujitsu “to carry out data capture and field trials in order to achieve fair and accurate, real-time judging support for Artistic Gymnastics that can be launched in 2020,” the company shared in a press release. The 3D sensory system will be developed with the aim of merely providing assistance with the scoring process, relaying information to viewers, and supporting athletes and coaches. Citing the benefits of the tech support, former FIG president Bruno Grande said, “A judge must work for eight hours per day – does that allow the mental capacity to remain coherent? It’s not possible to maintain a coherent mind of criteria. Only the computer does.”
Still, the plan has attracted lots of criticism, especially given that gymnastics is one of—if not the most—contentiously judged sports in the Summer Games. Well-noted Romanian gymnast and Olympic medalist Nadia Comăneci said of the proposal, “Gymnasts are known for pushing the skills, looking for new angles, turns, points – so what happens when someone comes along with a totally different routine that has not been seen or registered by the computer,” adding bluntly, “How would that be judged?”
On a lighter note, the past two months have also been filled with rounds of product demonstrations and planning meetings. The easiest slot that robots could potentially fill is reception: welcoming and providing quick and detailed information for the thousands of people who will stream into the city to join the 16-day, action-packed events. Having AI-equipped robots in Tokyo’s Haneda Airport or other central locations to provide multiple language assistance is being strongly considered by the Tokyo metropolitan government as well as the Tokyo Metropolitan Industrial Technology Research Center.
The Olympics Games present a high stakes scenario to the lucky host city chosen every four years, as there are an infinite number of logistical and infrastructural considerations that must be taken, many times up until the last minute before the games officially kick off with the iconic torch ceremony. It will be interesting to see how Tokyo handles this extra set of challenges. If it is handled correctly, it could represent a win-win situation for the city as well as the tech vendors who plan to offer up their bots for the event. Whatever the outcome, the experience is sure to provide valuable experience for future host cities. In the future, we may even see a scenario in which bot support nears 100%.