(Pocket-lint) - Think about Toyota and you'll likely have a vision of a well-known car pop-up in your mind. But Toyota isn't just a car company. No, it's a mobility company.
The Japanese company is using its sponsorship of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympics Games to show-off what this means – from automation, to robots, emission-free fuels and accessible people movers – because, after all, this is a home games and all eyes will be watching.
But what exactly can we expect to see both publicly and behind the scenes? We've spent some time deep-diving into Toyota's mobility tech while at the Tokyo Motor Show 2019 to get a taste. Here are the top five technologies that will innovate at the games.
Hydrogen transportation for zero emissions
"The Toyota Mirai is the official vehicle of the 2020 games," says Maki Kobayashi, Director of Communications and Engagement at the Bureau for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, "with the goal of reducing environmental impact" in Tokyo's Odaiba district, where much of the 2020 Games will be held.
Given that it will make up a large proportion of the 3,000 official vehicles required to keep the games moving, it's a wise choice, as this hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCEV) not only ticks the zero emissions box, it's also a genuine head-turner – see our pictures from the Tokyo Motor Show here – and a complete turn-around compared to the first-gen car.
Using compressed hydrogen as its fuel means refilling in a matter of minutes, not hours like electric vehicles, so with the necessary infrastructure of hydrogen stations installed in the Tokyo area it'll be able to keep delegates moving without polluting.
Level 4 autonomous driving a reality
Toyota has other branches to its wide business, including its luxury car brand, Lexus. And in 2020 it will be rolling out its TRI-P4 Level 4 chauffeur vehicle, meaning fully automated driving – with the ability to keep lanes, change lanes, over-take – as part of its 'chauffeur' mobility as a service (MaaS). The public will be invited to register for the experience – although we don't know how this is done just yet – with individuals selected to participate between July to September 2020.
Now you might think that'll mean lots of empty driver's seats, but as Japanese law requires an operator to be present at all times, what it really achieves is greater safety. Dr James Kuffner, CEO of TRI-AD (Toyota Research Institute - Advanced Development), says the TRI-P4 will be "a powerful supercomputer on wheels [with] 360-degree surround multi-modal sensor configuration" to fully see and assess its surroundings in real-time.
It's also upgradeable over the air (OTA), meaning the team can continue to develop its software, while deep learning for object pose estimation means the car will learn behaviours over time – then send them to the cloud so other vehicles obtain the same 'way of thinking'.
Electric vehicle transportation for athletes
An Olympic Games would be nothing without its athletes. And with over 20,000 of the world's best expected at Tokyo 2020 – over 11,000 at the Olympic Games, over 9,000 at the Paralympic Games – that's a lot of bodies to get to the correct venues on time.
Toyota's solution here is an adaptation of one that was revealed back at CES 2018: the e-Palette. This truck-sized automated vehicle has versatile use – in the future it could be a delivery truck by night, people carrier for rush hour, then food delivery service by lunch time – and for the Tokyo 2020 Games over a dozen will be deployed in and around the athletes village for low-speed (19kmph maximum) automated driving.
Again, the focus is on safety, enabling smooth entry and exit for passengers – whether able-bodied or not – thanks to an automated ramp system. It features space for four wheelchairs and up to 20 more standing, including those at over two metres tall.
With 360-degree obstacle detection and a large face-like visual display to communicate to those pedestrians outside of the vehicle, it's a rather cute solution (and how oh-so-Japan that influence is). It's all-electric too, so zero emissions, with a range beyond 150km per charge from its under-the-floor-positioned li-ion battery.
Assistive robots to aid visitors
For Nobby Kona, Chief Officer at Frontier Research Centre, it's all about "creating robots living in harmony with people." Which is where the Human Support Robot (HSR) comes into play. With a single arm system, HSR is able to reach high or down to the ground to collect and carry objects. In the future, following greater development, we could see this system as being an assistive at-home robot for those less able.
At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, however, around 10 or more will be deployed at the new national stadium, where they'll be provided for less able visitors and tasked with specific functions.
HSR is entirely autonomous, meaning it can be instructed to perform a task – even by voice in English, Japanese or Mandarin – and can even recognise its assigned user. Tasks at the stadium will include guiding guests and delivering food and drink, among more options – although Kona and his team aren't revealing everything just yet.
Automation will be revealed in other guises too, including the FSR – that's Field Service Robot, AKA javelin and shot-put collector in our book – which is automated for the first time, not requiring a human controller to navigate. Simply load it up, press a button and it'll go to the correct place. It's styled like the e-Palette in mini form, keeping it very much on brand.
Bringing the mascots to life
Robots needn't be entirely functional, they can be fun too. The 2020 Games' official mascots, Miraitowa and Someity, will also make an appearance – and we don't mean as some guy dressed up in an oversized costume (although that's possible too, knowing Japan). Instead they will be Toyota-built robots.
The mascot bots – which will each be around three feet in height, so not too imposing for kids and the like – will be able to move their arms and legs and respond to touch to engage with visitors and other robots, when greeting guests at each venue. There's also a head-mounted camera for engaging and recognising people to interact with, including expression response through its eyes.
We pressed Kona and his team for more about what we can expect but they couldn't reveal all, as "some things have to remain a surprise". And what a pleasant surprise the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games ought to be, from the Japanese settings, to the world-class events, and the technologies that will be the driving force behind the scenes.