Motivated by a desire to showcase their industrial prowess to the world, some of Japan’s biggest companies are targeting 2020 as the perfect time to unveil new technologies that could revolutionize things like mobile telecommunications, automobiles, consumer electronics, and even the way people watch live events. With all this new tech emerging from Japan, it’s likely that the way we experience the Olympics in 2020 will be quite different than anything before. Here are seven futuristic technologies being implemented at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
7. Maglev Trains
The last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics in 1964, they presented the world with the shinkansen, commonly known in English as the bullet train. At the time, it was the fastest train in the world and demonstrated Japan’s reemergence as a technological leader. Today, Japan continues to be at the forefront of train innovation and high-speed transit with the introduction of maglev trains. Although trains that utilize magnetic levitation have been in operation for years, in 2015 Japan broke the land speed record for rail travel with a maglev train that hit speeds of 374 miles per hour. If they can further develop the train and make it commercially viable (it still hasn’t been passenger tested), Japan could be boasting another transportation breakthrough in 2020.
6. Robot Assistants
Everyone knows how much Japan loves robots, so it’s only fitting that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics feature an army of robots ready to assist locals and foreign visitors with everything from getting directions to carrying luggage. Tokyo’s Odaiba neighborhood, in addition to housing many visiting athletes, will also be the site of a so called “robot village” that will be chock full of these helpful mechanical attendants. No word yet if they’ve completed any sort of fully functional giant war mech, but be sure to keep an eye out during those opening ceremonies.
5. Robot Taxis
Huge companies like Apple, Google, Mercedes, and Toyota are all scrambling to be the first to bring self-driving cars to market—which is why it would be a pretty impressive feat if e-commerce and mobile gaming giant DeNA managed to beat them to the punch. The Tokyo-based company is placing big bets that they’ll have their version of the self-driving vehicle, called the Robot Taxi, up and running in time for the 2020 Olympics.
4. 8K Television Broadcasts
Back in 1964 when Tokyo first hosted the summer games, color TVs were quickly becoming the standard for home viewing. Now, with the 2020 games returning to Tokyo, Japan aims to start another revolution in broadcasting with 8K resolution imaging technology. The new high-tech displays will boast a resolution of 7,680 pixels horizontally by 4,329 pixels vertically—16 times as many pixels as the standard high-definition displays, which offer a resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels. The higher resolution promises a sharper, deeper, and smoother moving image than ever before. 8K resolution could also be beneficial to areas outside of broadcasting. Medical practices, for instance, could take advantage of the increased visual clarity to make better diagnoses and perform surgeries that might otherwise be impossible.
3. Instant Translators
Despite the large number of foreigners learning to speak Japanese in the last decade, there are inevitably going to be language barriers at any sort of large international event like the Olympics. That’s why, in 2020, Japan intends to introduce new state-of-the-art instant translation technology. The real-time translation system will include applications that can be installed on smart phones and other internet connected devices. To use the app, all people need to do is select their target language, speak into the device, and then wait for it to translate and convert what was spoken into audio and visual form. The software analyzes the voice and selects the closest translation from a vast collection of phrase pairs stored in its database. The more it’s used, the more sophisticated it gets by gradually increasing the amount of usable data on the server (with the user’s consent, of course).
Electronics manufacturer Panasonic also plans to release a credit card-sized device capable of translating Japanese into 10 other major languages. They’ll also supply visitors with an app that can read Japanese street signs and translate them instantly.
2. Man-Made Meteor Showers
The Japan Times has reported that a company called ALE is developing a microsatellite that will orbit the Earth and eject dozens of tiny spheres to create a man made meteor shower. Once ejected, the spheres will glow brightly as they blaze through the earth’s atmosphere falling at about eight kilometres per second. According to ALE, all the spheres will contain a secret chemical formula and, by tinkering with the ingredients, it should be possible to change the colors they emit as they streak across the sky.
But as beautiful as the idea of an artificial meteor light show sounds, it certainly won’t come cheap. It’s estimated that each shooting star would initially cost about a million yen to help the company recoup the roughly billion yen that’s required to develop and launch the microsatellite.
1. Clean and Renewable Power
Ever since the catastrophic events surrounding the Japanese 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Japan has been eyeing alternative power sources to alleviate its ailing Fukushima nuclear plant. Now, big companies like Boeing are lauding algae as a potentially clean and renewable fuel source. The amazing thing about the algae is its ability to suck up carbon dioxide and transform it into energy. Its also more environmentally friendly than a lot of other land-based green energies because it can produce more energy per acre and is comparatively easy to grow. Boeing is anticipating that by the time the Olympics make it Japan in 2020, tourists will be able to fly on jets fueled by algae oil.
Japan is also making plans to power buildings using an alternative power source based on the most abundant element in the universe—hydrogen. The Japanese government is set to pour 40 billion yen ($330 million) into the development of technologies based on hydrogen gas, which is capable of producing energy without harmful byproducts when mixed with oxygen in a fuel cell. If all goes according to plan, a massive underground pipeline will be constructed to funnel enough hydrogen to power the entire Olympic village, including transit, athlete housing, and press lounges.