Technology in Tokyo


I, as it seems most of the world was, was struck by the use of technology in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. It got me thinking about the use of cutting-edge technology in the Olympics and its ability to predict future uses and trends of technology.

The Olympics have a history of innovation. Nations often introduce revolutionary new technologies to the world at the Olympic Games. In 1912, the Stockholm Summer Games was the first time electronic stopwatches were used on a mass scale. In 1936, the Berlin Summer Games was the first time a sporting event was broadcast live on television. In 1964, the Tokyo Summer Games was the debut of the shinkansen, the world’s first high-speed bullet train.

The Pyeongchang Olympics served as the testing ground for the largest 5G wireless network showcase yet. Companies also unleashed self-driving cars, high speed video streaming, and virtual reality viewing.


Emerging tech in Japan is going to change the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Masa Takaya, spokesperson for the Tokyo Organizing Committee, said that the committee is on track to deliver the most innovative games in Olympic history.

Here are a few of their plans:

  1. Robot Village – Japan is already a worldwide leader in robotics technology. They plan to have a village of robots at people’s beck and call. The village will be adjacent to Tokyo’s Odaiba neighborhood, which will also serve as the athletes’ Olympic Village. Visitors will be able to call for nearby robots to help with language translation, directions, or beckon for transportation.

Robot Village

The famous 60-foot tall Gundam statue in the Odaiba neighborhood.

  1. TV Broadcasts in 8K – Japanese state television network NHK plans to air the Olympic Games in ultra-vivid 8K.


  1. 5G Wireless Connections – Tokyo expects well over half a million foreign visitors at the Olympics who will all be attempting to use their phones. Intel, carrier NTT DoCoMo, and automaker Toyota all announced their partnerships for the 2020 Olympics, and they wasted no time announcing plans to market their 5G tech capabilities. Intel has promised to blanket the city in 5G, turning it into a “smart city” with video streams everywhere. Toyota has suggested they will use 5G for traffic management. Alibaba Cloud also believes their technology could be used to help organizers with traffic-management and tourists. One of their services is an artificial intelligence-powered system that helps cities mitigate their traffic congestion problems. DoCoMo has partnered with Nokia to develop 5G wireless so networks can run at high frequencies.


  1. Algae-Fueled Airlines – Japan wants to use algae as a fuel source for jets and buses. Boeing has already signed on and is eyeing an eventual worldwide rollout. Algae is a clean and efficient fuel source, but making biofuel from it is an expensive procedure. Boeing has partnered with over 40 organizations to attempt to bring this to life.


  1. Hydrogen-Powered Buses and Buildings – The government plans to spend up to $330M on making the Olympic Village completely hydrogen-powered. They plan to build pipes underground to directly funnel the gas onsite and to bring 100 fuel cell-powered buses to transport people.


  1. Instant Language Translation – With over 206 National Olympic Committees sending athletes to Tokyo, Japan is working to make strides in instant language translation. VoiceTra, a real-time translation app, supports 27 languages. Panasonic is working on a small device to be worn around the neck that will translate Japanese into ten languages instantly. They also plan to provide visitors with an app that scans signs and translates them on the spot.


  1. Self-Driving Taxis – These will be used to bring athletes and tourists to stadiums. DeNA, the Japanese gaming giant, plans to get driverless taxis on the roads by the Olympics.


  1. Maglev Trains – Japan introduced the shinkansen train at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and is now hoping to make another leap forward with their next-generation high-speed rail system technology: magnetic levitation. Maglev chains are already in use in Shanghai and other cities around the world, but Japan is hoping to introduce the fastest one.


  1. Facial Recognition – Facial recognition technology for all accredited officials is due to be a part of the security plan at the 2020 Olympics. Identification cards will contain chips allowing facial recognition technology to automatically verify their identity at all checkpoints. It aims to prevent entry using borrowed, stolen, or counterfeit ID cards, while also reducing line times.


  1. 3D Lasers – The Japanese Gymnastics Association and Fujitsu Ltd. are working together to adapt the use of three-dimensional lasers and data processing to the gymnastics judging system. Fujitsu’s 3D laser sensors and data processing technology will discern athlete’s joint position and technique, which will be combined with the association’s expertise in recognizing proper gymnastics technique. They hope this system will help the judges since it is difficult to accurately judge and score a performance with the naked eye.


These experimental, emerging technologies are difficult to bring to market due to their cost and timing, but Takaya is confident in their ability to implement these technologies due to their “top-tier corporate sponsors investing in innovation towards 2020.” Takaya also said there are efforts in place to keep costs down. The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and the national government are working closely to control the $12.6B budget.

As a tech hub of the world, people are hopeful of their ability to implement these cutting-edge technologies in the 2020 Olympics. It will be fascinating to see if Tokyo is able to implement these technologies and the impact that will have on the use and spread of technology moving forward.


  1. Lucy Wilson · ·

    Great post, Katie!! It was incredibly comprehensive and informative on what we can expect from the 2020 Olympics. Prior to your blog post, the only plan I’d heard of yet was the use of 3D lasers in judging gymnastics. What I like about this technology is that it serves as a supplement to the judges’ existing process of evaluation rather than replacing it. Like we talked about with AI this past week, going forward, the best “experts” (such as doctors, managers or judges, in this case) incorporate technology into the core of their business but don’t rely fully on it. In my opinion, use of the 3D lasers reflects this idea exactly.

    On another note, I think the plan I’m most interested to see in Tokyo is the robot village. How cool (and bizarre) would it be to interact with a robot for your basic questions!! I think that if they can roll this out, it will greatly cut down on the number of staff they have to have on hand to fulfill these types of roles.

  2. kkim312 · ·

    This is an awesome post! I think this could be a huge turning point for technology used in the Olympics, since Tokyo is such a leader in this field. I did not even realize that Korea was testing self driving cars during the Olympics. I can’t even imagine what two more years will do for technology. As this technology advances though, how does this effect the athlete? With the 3-D lasers, yes scoring will be more accurate, but will the foundation of the sport being so human to the naked eye be disturbed? With more accurate scoring means the increase drive for perfection. This can lead to more doping, since the medical industry is rising just as much as technology. It will be really interesting to see how all of this technology plays out!

    1. katietisinger · ·

      Yeah, I think you make a great point @kkim312, part of the beauty of gymnastics is the free from of the sport, but I will say as a gymnast it can be incredibly frustrating when it is left up to solely the judge. I think it would have to be implemented correctly and only as a supplement to the judge to check specific requirements. There are other components of judging that have to do with artistic form, etc. so there will always be a judge and some discretion. I think you make a great point, though, on the need to think through these questions and really analyze the impact incorporating technology has on the people using it or who it is being used on.

  3. NeroC1337 · ·

    This post actually got me excited about attending the Japan Olympics, since China is fairly close to Japan and also I’m currently taking Japanese class. I think Japan has always been the leader in sustainable energy due to its own lack of nature resources. While we are repeatedly hearing about Tesla, Uber, Driver-less car, I believe that Japan would really provide an answer to many current problems on drive-less car and the usage of sustainable energy resources. I’m particular excited, but also particular worried about the concept of Robot Viliage, in which I believe that thousands of robots will be walking on the street. Japan normally does a good job on automation and robotics and AI associate with them; however, I do see challenges to this project with a huge volume of tourists, especially when they are from different place, speaking different languages. Might just need to start plan for a trip to Japan in 2020.

  4. roarkword · ·

    This post got me thinking about the potential that The Olympics provide to their host countries and how certain countries have chosen to best use or squander the opportunity of a world stage. When I think of the Olympics I think to the opening ceremony and the spectacle that each host attempts to outdo the others with. But the content of this post explores that there is a much more beneficial and impressive way to leave people astounded other than pyrotechnics and synchronous population movements. In recent years, accommodating guests to the host country seemed to be based on a minimum standard of lodging and security; with these efforts though Japan seems to be committed to achieving a maximum level of accommodation with technology that will spur the imagination of visitors and send them home with a renewed appreciation for innovation.

    This post shows how the sports world and the attention that it draws can be a driving force for more than just improvements to judging but to technological improvements as a whole that can be appreciated by those regardless of nationality. Let’s just see how many of these game changers they can successfully achieve and implement beforehand!

  5. Nice post. I usually don’t start paying attention to the Olympics until about 2 days beforehand, but I agree that these innovations sound really cool! I’m stoked now!

  6. tylercook95 · ·

    Really Cool Post I can’t wait to see if they can actually pull all of this off! I was particularly interested in the voice translator which could take Japanese and instantly translate it into 10 other languages. I think this feature along with being able to translate signs will really help make guests feel more welcomed when visiting for the Olympics. It will also help the city itself because this could help the unnecessary congestion and traffic with people not knowing where they are walking or what different alerts mean. By assisting people in the city, people will probably be able to spend more time seeing the actual events, rather than trying to figure out whats going on in transportation or when it comes to listening to the announcers. I would love to see if they could extend this past 10 languages to include more of the 206 countries, the more inclusive this feature is, the more I feel it will help build one big community that the Olympics attempts to build. I wonder if there will be issues with older people or less technically adept people. Will they have a training program for how to use the device and app? This could really help with a smooth transition.

  7. jjaeh0ng · ·

    This is absolutely amazing blog post. I have followed Pyeongchang Olympics since the day IOC announced Korea will be the host in 2018. A variety of technologies were introduced during global sporting events this winter. I remember the drones created Olympics symbols during the opening ceremony, which caught many eyes around the world. As you mentioned, virtual reality experiences, 5G networks, and AI robots around venues made the Winter Olympics a showcase for high technology by Korea. In addition to enriching fans experiences, technology was also used in athletic equipment to improve athletes’ performances. The technology in fact is becoming bigger and bigger in the sports industry. Those emerging technologies that Japan is planning to showcase in 2020 will make the Winter Olympics even more interesting. I personally believe the instant translation tech will offer immediate convenience and satisfaction to a lot visitors coming from all over the world.

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