Toyota, a top sponsor of next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo, wants to roll out a fleet of high-tech robots for the games that will take visitors to their seats, distribute drinks, return thrown javelins from the field or even act as virtual immersive avatars for people unable to attend.
But this month’s preview of the first wave of gadgetry indicates that it’s still a work in progress.
Robotics and artificial intelligence have emerged as top priorities for Toyota Motor Corp. as President Akio Toyoda races to transform Japan’s biggest carmaker into a mobility purveyor. Toyota has invested billions of dollars into the effort.
But as the countdown to the Olympics enters its final year, Toyota’s engineers concede they are unsure how all the gadgets will even be used.
Consider the newly developed T-TR1. The remote-location communication robot resembles an oversized upright vacuum cleaner with a tall vertical display screen where the dust bag would be.

The Field Support Robot, reminiscent of an ice cooler, integrates lidar, camera and GPS technology.
The Field Support Robot, reminiscent of an ice cooler, integrates lidar, camera and GPS technology.

Attend virtually
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 U.S.-based robotics and artificial intelligence unit created in 2015 with a $1 billion investment.
The APM has a ramp that slides out from the bottom for wheelchairs access
The APM has a ramp that slides out from the bottom for wheelchairs access

Robotic retriever
Then there is the FSR, short for Field Support Robot.
This pint-sized runabout is for use at events such as the javelin, discus and hammer throw. The four-wheeled FSR, about the size and shape of a tailgate ice cooler, will scamper onto the field and return objects to the throwing areas.
The robot showcases the integration of lidar, camera and GPS technology to pilot the FSR back to base autonomously, as a self-driving car would do. The idea is to relieve the burden on humans who would otherwise be lugging the projectiles back and forth under Japan’s hot summer sun.
However, walking humans must still guide the FSR to where the objects land because the robot can’t track them. And people must still pick up the objects and put them in the FSR’s cargo bin.
The technologies unveiled here lacked the pizazz of many of the future mobility concepts long speculated about from Toyota. There were no autonomous pods or flying cars, for instance.
The single-vehicle that Toyota rolled out among the robots seemed more utilitarian than utopian. Called the Accessible People Mover, or APM, the shuttle is a van-sized, open-air, three-row full-electric people mover.
Toyota has worked for years on a slew of support robots in hopes of one day parlaying them into an actual business. At the Olympics, Toyota will also deploy human support robots and delivery support robots to take guests to their seats or distribute refreshments to spectators.