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Toyota deploys autonomous electric-powered vehicles around and on the playing field

Faster, higher, stronger—the Games of the 32nd Olympiad, aka Tokyo 2020, is already one of the most memorable in recent history. This is not least because it has been held in one of the most unusual episodes in the past 100 years: a worldwide pandemic. Now, with Toyota’s vehicles involved in the games, to the Olympic motto, you can add: sleeker, friendlier, and cuter. 

Olympic sponsor Toyota has deployed its futuristic concept vehicles to provide mobility to athletes and staff. Chief among this is the “Tokyo 2020 Version” of its e-Palette autonomous vehicle. 16-units of e-Palette will be zipping around the venues of the games. The e-Palette encompasses the future trends of the automotive industry: electrification, shared use, and autonomous driving. 

The e-Palette is a futuristic minibus measuring 5255mm long x 2065mm width. It can carry up to 20 passengers at a speed of 20 kph, with a range of 150km. It uses cameras and LiDAR sensors, combined with 3D mapping and a remote operation management system, to enable automated driving at SAE Level 4: the vehicle can drive itself under limited conditions, as in a local driverless taxi. Sensors and cameras have a 360-degree view to keep the vehicle on course and stop for pedestrians. Its front and rear lamps mimic eye contact to give pedestrians a signal as to what the vehicle intends: an “eye blink” from the headlamps means “After you.” Each e-Palette will have a human “safety operator” onboard, but drive essentially autonomously around their set routes.

For its role in the Tokyo 2020 games, the vehicles feature large doors and electric ramps to allow athletes, including Paralympians, to board easily and quickly. The vehicle’s flat floor and long wheelbase allow plentiful room for passengers including those in wheelchairs. The e-Palette was revealed at Toyota’s booth during the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show. 

CEO Akio Toyoda personally inspected the e-Palette operations center on the opening day of the Olympics. He gave encouragement to the Toyota team manning the center, telling them that they should expect trouble sooner or later, and that they should be ready for it. 

The vehicle that has caught the attention of many viewers is the robotic vehicle that zips around on the field. It’s similar to the e-Palette, at about 1/10 scale that is. The Field Support Robot (FSR) is similar to its full-scale counterpart: it is autonomous and electrically-powered. The FSR uses three cameras and one LiDAR sensor to detect its surroundings. When it makes its way around the field to assist Olympics officials, it charts its own route using AI. The FSR is then loaded with heavy objects, for example the 8kg metal hammers used in the hammer throw. The official then presses a button to send the equipment back to the athletes. Interestingly, the FSR goes at a maximum 20kph, similar to the full-size e-Palette. FSR follows a series of scale-model vehicles used in the Olympics, starting with the 2008 Beijing games. London 2012 saw remote controlled mini-Mini Coopers on the field, followed by miniature pick-up trucks at Rio 2016. Tokyo 2020 marks the first time that the vehicles are autonomous. 

These are only a few of the massive fleet that Toyota has deployed at Tokyo 2020. Toyota supplied around 3700 mobility products and vehicles for the games. Electrified vehicles including hybrids, fuel cell vehicles, plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles (BEV) will be used, including 500 Mirai hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles and 850 BEVs. The use of electrification will reduce the fleet emissions by approximately half compared to a conventional gasoline or diesel vehicles. 

Also seen in ads shown during the Olympic Games is the LQ concept. The LQ concept is designed as an autonomous vehicle with on-board artificial intelligence dubbed “Yui.” There’s also the T-HR3 humanoid robot that will greet visitors to the games, and robotic versions of Tokyo 2020 mascots Miraitowa and Someity. The T-TR1 robot allows the user to be virtually present via a large vertical screen—for example, to virtually ask for a date, as seen in the Toyota ad. 

Mr. Toyoda said to his team providing mobility for the Olympics, “Transporting people might only mean moving people from point A to point B, but “move” in English can also mean moving people emotionally. If you can leave people feeling that the Tokyo 2020 Games were great, I’m sure that would leave them feeling good about Japan, too, lifting their thoughts above the currently reported disarray.” Lift us up, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has certainly done. 

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