Organisers of the 2020 Olympics are promising the most innovative Games in history. A year out from the event, Michael Burgess takes an inside look at the futuristic world of the Tokyo Olympics.
When Eliza McCartney arrives in Tokyo for the Olympics next year she won't be travelling light.
Many athletes are laden with gear, but pole vaulters more than most.
McCartney, the Rio bronze and Commonwealth Games silver medallist, will carry between eight and 10 poles in her bags, weighing up to 40kg.
But on arrival at the Japanese capital McCartney will be able to take a load off her mind.
At the airport, in the athletes' village and inside the venues, there will be volunteers with the strength of Hulk and the power of Ironman available to haul McCartney's precious cargo.
In an only-in-Japan scenario, these workers and volunteers will be utilising wearable robotic suits developed by Panasonic.
These power-assisted suits can reduce the burden of a load by up to 40 per cent, turning the average volunteer into a heavyweight lifter.
"We want to showcase this technology and how it can be leveraged in society," 2020 organising committee spokesman Masa Takaya told the Herald. "The games are a catalyst for social change and this is a perfect opportunity to show how it can be integrated into our daily lives."
The technology is cool, but also potentially important.
"We would like to have a society where people can work without caring about gender differences or age differences," Panasonic general manager Yoshifumi Uchida said earlier this year.
Organisers of the 2020 Olympics are promising the most innovative Games in history.
With a little less than a year until the opening ceremony, they look well placed to deliver.
For a start, there will be robots. Lots of robots. Facial recognition technology will be employed for the first time at an Olympics to help screen more than 330,000 accredited personnel at major entry and exit points.
The prized Olympic medals have been constructed in part from recycled gold, silver and bronze from more than six million donated mobile phones, while the podiums will be made from recycled household plastic.
To deal with concerns over the sweltering summer temperatures, organisers have applied heat-reducing substances to almost 100km of roads and footpaths in Tokyo, including the entire marathon course.
But let's start with the robots.
Aside from the robotic power suits, organisers have unveiled prototypes that will be used in stadiums during the Games, to assist both disabled spectators and workers.
The first is the Human Support Robot (HSR), a metre-high bot that can hold objects, reach up to high shelves and pick things up from ground level.
It can move autonomously or be controlled remotely, and can guide people in wheelchairs to their seats and carry items.
The Delivery Support Robot (DSR) will transport food and drink orders from outlets to the grandstand area, where the HSR will deliver directly to the individual spectator.
"They are serving machines for people with wheelchairs," said Takaya. "They can order what they want. The robot receives the orders, transfers to kitchen, another robot can bring drinks and food to those users automatically."
Toyota has also developed the Field Support Robot, a self-driving robot car that will fetch and return during field events.
After using AI to follow marshals to the discuses, hammers and javelins, they'll ferry their load back to the athletes.
It will be more efficient — organisers promise it will be faster and find the optimal path — and also entertaining for the spectators, a step up on the miniature remote controlled cars used at the past three Games.
Mascot-type robots (named Miraitowa and Someity) will be stationed at various venues to greet, shake hands and welcome athletes and supporters.
Toyota also plans to use various telepresence and virtual reality-enabled humanoid robots which will allow spectators away from the venues to "virtually attend" the Games, by transmitting sounds and images from partner robots in remote locations.
"The Games are a unique opportunity for us to display Japanese robot technology," said Hirohisa Hirukawa, leader of the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project. "This project will not simply be about exhibiting robots, but showcasing their practical real-life deployment helping people. So there will be not only sports at the Tokyo 2020 Games, but some cool robots at work to look forward to as well."
Life-sized robots capable of communicating across four languages, have also be trialled at Metro stations to give directions and offer advice on local attractions. Takaya added that more robots will be introduced over the coming year.
And in Tokyo, gone are the days of athletes, officials and workers stuck in huge queues at security points as their passes are checked, thanks to pioneering facial recognition technology.
"We will have more than 330,000 portrait photos archived in the access server," said Takaya. "It will be more efficient and robust and is a great legacy for future global sporting events."
Organisers say it will be more secure, will have no ability to use lost or stolen passes, and quicker in the summer heat.
Temperatures are an ongoing concern.
The Tokyo summer can be brutally hot and humid, and last year the mercury exceeded 40 degrees in Saitama, just outside the capital.
"We are not optimistic about the summer weather in Tokyo, particularly as we observed last year with the highest recorded temperature in the history of Japan," observed Takaya.
In typical Japanese fashion, there has been a search for ways to mitigate the heat, with a plethora of functional areas from city and national governments, as well as the organising committee in a taskforce.
Some solutions are straightforward (earlier start times, the marathons at 6am and the 50km race walk at 5.30am), other less so.
The most eye catching idea is the application of solar blocking paint on a huge network of roads, overlapping the marathon and race walking course.
"We will have more than 100km completed by 2020 and 90 per cent of [that] is already done," said Takaya. "We are expecting to see a reduction in the road surface temperature."
Innovation is not just about new technology.
It's also about thinking smarter, illustrated by the "mobiles to medals" project.
Enough gold, silver and bronze was collected for the manufacture of all 5000 Tokyo 2020 medals, recycled from cellphones and other unwanted small electronic devices.
In two years, 6,210,000 phones were handed in, yielding 32kg of gold, 3500kg of silver and 2200kg of bronze.
It was a massive undertaking. A total of 46 prefecture governments and more than 1500 municipal governments supported the initiative.
Toyota installed 6000 collection points at their branches across the country, while people could also donate at 3500 post offices.
Adding to the recycling ethos, the podiums that Tom Walsh, McCartney and other Kiwi athletes will (hopefully) stand on, will be constructed from plastic collected from households across the country.
Of perhaps most importance, preparations are right on track, in a country where organisation and timeliness are highly valued.
There will be 56 test events between now and next year and more than half of the new permanent venues have already been completed.
Those outstanding include the Olympic stadium — 90 per cent complete and scheduled to be ready in November — and the Aquatics centre (75 per cent complete), set to be unveiled in February.
"Preparations are right on track," said Takaya. "We receive IOC delegations four times a year [and] they seem to be very satisfied with the positive feedback, level of preparation and the co-ordination between the organising committee, Tokyo government and Metropolitan government.
"The projects are right on schedule and everything will be done in time for the test events."