When Japan welcomes millions of foreign travelers for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, one thing the visitors will see apart from the world’s best athletes is the world’s best robots. It may sound like the realization of countless science-fiction fantasies, but humanoid robots are now quite commonplace in big cities like Tokyo. This is a dream that was long in the making.
Japan is a country often associated with advanced robotics. It has devised machines that can joke, dance, babble, and even baby-sit. Yet when disaster struck, Japan’s domestic robot corps was found wanting. In March 2011, a record 9-magnitude quake shook the northern foundations of Honshu, Japan’s main isle, and unleashed a 40-meter tsunami that claimed thousands of lives, shattered homes and placed a large nuclear power station in a critical condition.