From Robots to E-waste Medals: The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Takes First Place

August 08, 2021 by Kimber Wymore

Support was an overarching theme to this year's Olympic games, which showcased innovative ways of showing support through recycling, robotics, and immersive experiences.

Though the Olympics are known for displaying feats of agility, strength, and poise, there is more to it than meets the eye. 

In recent years, the Olympics have become a go-to place to share and show off exciting tech to support competitors and fans alike. All in all, 2021 looked to be no different. 


Olympics 2020 logos.

Olympics 2020 logos. Image used courtesy of Tokyo 2020 Olympics


Concluding today after its launch on July 23rd, the roughly 2-week event has brought not only the world together to compete but to show how technology can fit into a more physically orientated event.

From e-waste medals to VR training, this event has showcased how technology can win gold at being resourceful.


Turning E-waste Into Gold

Announced back in 2016, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were already looking to combine technology and the games into one eco-friendly package. The solution? Medals made from e-waste. 

Discarded electronics, especially those not properly recycled, is a constantly growing issue, not only for Japan but the rest of the world as well.. To further Japan's goals of becoming more environmentally conscious and building off of pre-existing recycling legislature, this project led by the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games hoped to pave the way to a new, resourceful way to create winning medals.


A general outline of the e-waste recycling process.

A general outline of the e-waste recycling process. Image used courtesy of Rao et al


Though this use of e-waste seems like a beneficial and resourceful way to help with a pre-existing issue, the process of removing metals from electronics, especially gold, is generally not an easy feat, often requiring harsh chemicals and a tedious process. 

The event committee had to go through the process of collection, classification, dismantling, extraction, refining, and finally smelting to make about 5,000 gold, silver, and bronze medals (collectively). In total, roughly 78,985 tons of devices were collected, which led to 32 kg of gold, 3,500 kg of silver, and finally, 2,200 kg of bronze.

Despite the challenges associated with creating medals with e-waste, it was a creative way to impact a global issue and find a way to make the people who donated feel as if they were a key part in the creation of each medal. Not only are people showing their support to the athletes through donating for the medals, but support is also coming from robots as well. 


Robots, Robots, and More Robots

When you think of Tokyo, Japan, you might think of huge skyscrapers, jam-packed streets, and the latest high-tech advancements. Riding this assumption, companies have brought a variety of robots onto the Olympic field (both figuratively and literally). 


Toyota's field support robot (FSR). Image used courtesy of Toyota


As part of the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project, Toyota and Panasonic, along with government support, have been working on creating ways to incorporate robots into everyday life, especially when supporting humans. As shown above, the field support robot (FSR) is one of many robots used to help, specifically participants, at this year's games. 

Designed to help retrieve various objects, like the javelin or discus, this robot attempts to increase efficiency by using its algorithms to determine the best route between the desired object and destination and aims to help alleviate the operational staff from having to complete this tedious chore, which used to be done by a radio-controlled car.

Another feature included within this robot is a system of lights along the top to help communicate which state the robot is in (autonomous, tracking, or stop). This system helped bridge the gap between human and robot interface, this way people knew what and how the robot was "thinking" and processing. 


An image of the human support robot (HSR). Image used courtesy of Toyota


Adding to the FSR are other support robots like the delivery support robot (DSR) and the human support robot (HSR). Both of these robots were designed to support general everyday activities, as well as help those in wheelchairs or in need of assistance. Specifically, the DSR would help with collecting garbage and transporting items, while the HSR would help people to their seats and bring them drinks. 

This year's regimen of robots greatly focused on user design to support users themselves. Hoping also to add further support comes from Intel.


Intel Focuses on Creating an Immersive Experience

Hoping to create a more immersive experience for both fans and athletes, Intel tried to pull out all the stops using technology from virtual reality (VR) training to play-by-play, onscreen biometrics. 

Considered a top supporter of the 2020 Olympics, Intel found multiple ways to show its support. One way is through 3D athlete tracking (3DAT).

Using computer vision and artificial intelligence, the 3DAT platform aimed to enhance the Olympics' viewing experience with real-time insights during certain athletic events. This system is comprised of four pan-tilt mounted cameras to capture the motion of athletes. From there, the recorded forms and movements go through pose estimation algorithms optimized for Intel's Xeon processors, which then analyze the athlete's biomechanics and are added as an overlay to the broadcast. 

Another way Intel helped create an immersive experience was through its True View VR training platform. Working with the International Olympics Committee (IOC), Intel harnessed its Xeon and Core processors to create a VR experience for cheaper and more efficient training. This platform included building digital twins to blend the digital and physical worlds for more optimized training, planning, and simulation. 

With these innovative technological additions and the support from Intel, robots, and fans, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games strived to be a step above past games. After riding off the delay from the 2020 pandemic, this year's event hoped to create a way to bring the fans and athletes together in ways that are sure to continue for future games. It will be interesting to see what will come out of the next event, the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.


Featured image used courtesy of Toyota



Did you watch this year's Olympic games? What were your thoughts? Did you notice any interesting tech being used? Let us know in the comments down below.