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Smart Stadiums, Streets & Airports: How Tokyo Is Preparing For 2020 Olympics

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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In three years’ time, the Olympics will arrive in Tokyo. But how will smart city technology improve Tokyo 2020, the lives of citizens and visitors?

In two years’ time, the world of sport will descend upon Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. 

For the host city there is an obsession with legacy. Barcelona 1992 revitalised the Catalonian capital, London 2012’s is yet to be determined, while Rio 2016’s prospects are looking dim. 

Tokyo 2020’s legacy could be the realisation of a ‘new Japan’, achieved through smart city technology if Panasonic has anything to do with it. The company has been an official Olympic partner for more than 25 years, supplying audio and visual equipment such as projectors for the opening ceremony. 

It will reprise this role in 2020 but as a home games it hopes to make a splash beyond its obligation to the IOC and organisers. 

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Smart transport 

The vast majority of visitors to Tokyo will make use of public transport and the aim is to make it as easy as possible. While transport staff are friendly and much of the information is available in English, making sense of Japanese and the Tokyo Metro map can be tricky. 

Panasonic is testing out a new travel board at Haneda airport which displays the most popular destinations and the best way to get there on train, metro, bus and taxi. Each is colour coded with connection and fare information.  

The real innovation is the use of a smartphone application that translates the text into your language using the smartphone camera and then providing directions using beacon-like technology to act as a GPS. 

The same connectivity powers a prototype autonomous mobility scooters which can take passengers that need assistance to their gate. It uses lasers to stop if it senses an object and to instruct a separate luggage cart to follow. After both have reached the gate, it returns to a central hub to be charged. 

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Smart streets 

Panasonic is also working with the Tokyo government on a project to remove electricity poles and the wires that criss-cross Japanese streets, moving them underground. Authorities hope this will be more aesthetically pleasing and will better protect infrastructure against natural disasters. 

This will allow for the deployment of street hubs that can display digital advertising and emergency information, act as a Wi-Fi hotspot, and offer power outlets for pop-up businesses. Visitor information can also be displayed and translated using a mobile application. 

At present this project is limited to the capital, but Panasonic would like to see a nationwide rollout so it can transform Japan’s streets. 

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Sport IT

In terms of the actual sport, organisers want events to ‘transcend’ the stadium. In addition to VR and 4K content streaming, new analytical capabilities will be able to detect the speed of swimmers and display it real time on TV broadcasts. 

It will also be possible to determine the heart rate of an athlete simply by using a camera. As heartbeat increases, the colour of the skin changes. This works mainly on slower, solo sports like golf rather than football however. 

Stadium ordering is also set to be simplified using giant touchscreens and contactless payments, however these will be limited to Visa’s proprietary wristbands and not contactless cards or mobile payment services.  

This is curious, however card payments are less frequent in Japan than in the UK and as official sponsor of the IOC, Visa might hope to secure some sort of advantage. 

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Security 

As one of the world’s ‘mega events’, there are security concerns. Panasonic will offer a temporary security system for events that don’t need a permanent installation by combining cameras with an LTE network so images can be layered onto a map. 

Wearable cameras send back feeds to a management console, allowing for the easy identification of threats such as a suspicious package. 

Tokyo last hosted an Olympics in 1964 for which Japan’s iconic Shinkansen ‘bullet trains’ were constructed. Panasonic clearly hopes something just as transformative can come from the city’s second Olympics. 

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