The 2020 Tokyo Olympics: A Locus of Productivity

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The Olympics in Tokyo show might bring some crazy tech developments.

Recently, we heard another pleasant bit of gossip about the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The Olympics are all about pushing the envelope of what’s possible — and this doesn’t just apply to the athletes. Much like Usain Bolt who delivers unbelievable breakthroughs compared to previous world records, there have been many technological breakthroughs that come with the Olympics.

Some of these advances were relatively minor. The first use of electronic stopwatches during the 1912 Stockholm Summer Games, for example. Others have been revolutionary, such as the first live broadcast of a sporting event during the 1936 Berlin Summer Games.  The debut of world’s first high-speed bullet train during the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games was another game changer.

It’s fitting that Japan amazed the world more than 50 years ago with its revolutionary train. With Brazil’s Olympics wrapped up, Tokyo is hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics. Japan promises an impressive event that will bring several even more breakthroughs to one of the world’s biggest stages.

While there are many well-justified criticisms about the economic benefits of hosting the Olympics, there’s no doubt the event has led to some lasting innovations. The Olympics are a hive of productivity, as host nations are willing to spend billions of dollars to show off to the rest of the world.

In a way, it’s like a miniature version of the U.S. space program. Stemming from that main mission of exploring the universe, countless innovations were made that benefited everyday people instead of only astronauts. The benefit of great minds with access to vast resources can’t be understated. The Olympics serve a similar function in bringing technological developments to the host nation and the rest of the world.

Japan may have never made it to the moon, but they’re putting together what’s poised to be one of the most technologically impressive Olympics the world has ever seen. Some of those projected innovations are so ambitious that they’ll need to be seen before they’re believed.

Let the Hype Begin

A slickly produced teaser of what’s to come in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games was shown during the closing ceremonies in Brazil. As you can see in the video, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe took the stage dressed as the lovable Mario as the crowd roared on approvingly. These upcoming games are keen to intertwine entertainment and genuine breakthroughs into one Olympics-sized package.

Here are just a few of the planned developments for the upcoming Olympics.

A City of Robots

The athletes might not be the most interesting newcomers to Tokyo. Instead, robots may be getting all the attention. Japan is already one of the most automated nations on Earth when it comes to industry. For the Olympics, they’re going to bring the robots out into the public to help with translating, carrying luggage, and offering directions.

Self-Driving Robot Taxis

There’s no doubt that Japan’s bullet train revolutionized travel in Asia and Europe. Japan could find lightning in the bottle for a second time if their self-driving taxis are ready for the start of the Olympic games.

There’s something of an arms race going on in this field, as autonomous vehicles are considered the future of transportation. Everyone from traditional auto manufacturers to tech companies like Apple and Google are hoping to stake their claim. While there have been some promising breakthroughs (such as Tesla’s auto-pilot mode), the tech still has a long way to go.

The Japanese tech company DeNA, known mainly for their mobile games, is hoping to beat their better-known competitors with its Robot Taxi product. Small-scale testing is ongoing and it’s unknown how far away they are from a launch, but if DeNA succeeds, they’ll have one of the world’s biggest platforms to showcase their breakthrough.

It could definitely happen, as the Japanese government is fully on board in turning the Robot Taxi into a reality.

On-Demand Meteor Showers

Japan knows how to entertain. After all, this is the nation that helped grow video games from a niche diversion to a $100 billion industry. While the athletes will be providing the core of the entertainment during the Olympics, a Japanese startup is planning to dazzle the crowds from 50 miles above Earth. ALE is creating an artificial meteor shower through microsatellites that launch meteors of different shapes, sizes, and colors.

It won’t come cheap, as a single meteor shower is estimated to cost $9 million. However, it has the potential to make fireworks obsolete as the standard pyrotechnics for the Olympic ceremonies.

8K Resolution

That 4K TV you just dropped hundreds of dollars on might need to be upgraded. Japan began airing footage from the Rio 2016 Summer Games in the startlingly high 8K resolution — that’s four times as detailed as 4K resolution and 16 times the normal high-definition.

This broadcast was mostly a test, as TVs that can handle 8K resolution aren’t publicly available for less than a cool $160,000 yet. There’s no doubt that the tech will become more widespread in the next four years leading up the Tokyo Summer Games.

The Cost of Innovation

All these technological advances won’t come cheap. The total cost for the games is expected to hit $15 billion. The original forecast was a much more reasonable $2.5 billion.

This isn’t good news for Japanese taxpayers, but there might be a lot to show for that spending if the planned developments get off the ground. Who, after all, talks about the cost of the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games instead of the high-speed bullet train that the Olympics helped usher in?

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