What Do the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Industry 4.0 Have in Common?

Article By : Neil Ballinger

Organizers are making the most of cutting-edge technologies to keep participants safe while allowing viewers to be closer than ever to the performing athletes.

Japan has a long history of embracing robotics technology — the first Japanese robot, a friendly-looking humanoid called Gakutensoku, appeared in 1928. Since then, Japan has reached new heights of expertise in robots development and deployment, and is now the world’s leading robotics manufacturer, according to the International Federation of Robotics. As such, it’s not surprising that the country decided to rely on cutting-edge technology to deal with the unprecedented challenges of the 2020 Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, the manufacturing sector has also been faced with a number of challenges caused by a combination of factors, among which are the Covid-19 pandemic, the resulting economic recession, a global shortage of raw materials and Brexit-related uncertainties. So, can manufacturers learn a lesson from the Tokyo Olympics? Could the technologies used during the games help a sector in desperate need of solutions that boost productivity while cutting costs?

It might seem that sports and Industry 4.0 have nothing in common, but there are actually needs that are common to both worlds and that can be effectively tackled by some of the technologies showcased at the Tokyo Olympics. Let’s examine three of them.

Gaining insights from big data

The 2020 Olympics may have shifted to a spectator-less event, but fans have never had better insights on their favourite athletes’ performance. As we watch athletes compete, sensors and artificial intelligence-based platforms are collecting and processing in real time data about their performance to help teams develop better training programmes and assist judges in making the right decisions. Swiss watchmaker Omega is currently in charge of data collection and analysis — their sensors, attached to athletes’ shirts, can collect, and analyse up to 2000 datasets per second, including speed, points of acceleration and jump height.

Similarly, big data is being collected on most manufacturing production floors to monitor the health state of industrial equipment based on parameters such as pressure, operating temperatures, vibration levels and more. This data can help develop predictive maintenance programmes that detect and report potential issues before they cause irreversible damage, such as flagging temperature spikes before an electric motor fails due to overheating.

The main difference between the Tokyo Olympic Games and the world of manufacturing is that while many teams have dedicated staff to analyse athletes’ data, only a small amount of the data collected in factories is actually processed and used. IBM estimated that dark data — data that is collected but not used — constitutes around 90% of all data generated by sensors, while FMI argued that peaks of 95% are reached in the engineering and construction industries. The lesson that manufacturers can learn from the Olympics, in this case, is that data is only valuable when there’s a clear vision of how to use it.

Using data - Tokyo Olympics

Enhancing training

In collaboration with Intel, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has created an immersive training experience for key managers at competition venues thanks to virtual reality (VR). The VR training system has proven effective in keeping trainees engaged and providing accurate and objective feedback on their performance.

Far from being a far-fetched technology, VR training can be effectively used in a manufacturing environment to lower training costs while increasing information retention. For example, maintenance technicians can be trained in repairing equipment by projecting information directly on the part on which they need to operate. This eliminates the need to consults charts and manuals, speeding up the process.

Moreover, any employee equipped with AR glasses can be guided remotely by a more experienced colleague, who can simply simulate the actions to be performed. This eliminates the need to fly specialists across the globe, lowering costs while retaining the possibility to be trained by the best specialists in a given field.

VR training is also useful to safely teach employees to use potentially dangerous or delicate machines. For example, safety specialist AST has developed an e-training solution based on the VRdirect platform to teach participants how to safely handle earth-moving machinery. Finally, VR can help prepare staff for emergency procedures, teaching them to identify risks and react appropriately while keeping everyone safe.

VR for Training - Tokyo Olympics

Preventing unauthorized access

For the first time, facial recognition technology has been adopted in the Olympics to increase security and speed up ID verification for over 300,000 athletes, sponsors, journalists, and staff members. This technology will be used at the entry points of venues and accommodation to prevent identification fraud and unauthorised access to restricted areas. The system has been proved twice as fast as regular ID checks, helping reduce waiting times and preventing crowds from forming at entry points.

In manufacturing, facial recognition could effectively replace less reliable ways of tracking access to classified areas, such as key cards and USBs, which can be easily stolen or compromised. Facial recognition offers an extra level of security, ensuring that only authorised personnel can access hazardous areas or areas where sensitive information is stored.

This technology can also improve safety, for example by matching employee’s identity with a company’s training record to ensure that people working at a specific station have the required expertise to operate potentially dangerous equipment.

Facial Recognition - Tokyo Olympics

Countries will come together in the Olympics to compete in a range of sports, but national economies are also competing in a technological race. In the manufacturing world, companies can learn from the innovations showcased at the Tokyo Olympics to improve safety and efficiency and thus future-proof their operations.

This article was originally published on EE Times Europe.

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