TOKYO -- Toyota, as a top sponsor of next year's Summer Olympics in Tokyo, wants to roll out a fleet of high-tech robots that will take visitors to their seats, distribute drinks, retrieve thrown javelins from the field or even act as virtual immersive avatars for people unable to attend.
But last week's preview of the first wave of gadgetry shows much work left to be done.
Toyota has plowed billions of dollars into robotics and artificial intelligence for vehicles in recent years. But with just a year to go to the opening ceremony, engineers concede they must fine-tune some of their Olympics technology and aren't sure how some of it will even be used.
Consider the newly developed T-TR1. A remote location communication robot, it resembles an oversized upright vacuum cleaner with a tall vertical display screen where the dust bag would be.
The idea is to beam a life-size, real-time video of a person unable to attend the games onto the screen and have the robot roam the Olympic venues so the person can participate virtually. The human can interact with the surroundings through a 360-degree camera crowning the robot.
Yet, the current prototype can't drive itself autonomously. It has to be piloted remotely like a remote-controlled toy car. And Toyota still doesn't know how it will be deployed during the games, who might be selected to use it or even how many the company will end up producing.
The T-TR1 was developed by the Toyota Research Institute. That is the state-of-the-art, U.S.-based robotics and artificial intelligence unit created in 2015 with a $1 billion investment.