Could Tokyo 2020 set the pace for the future of mobility?

To get new technology adopted you need advocates – and Japan knows there will be plenty of punters to win over when it hosts next year's Olympic Games

Home life sustainability mobility Could Tokyo 2020 set the pace for the future of mobility?

All great inventors know how hard it is to get an invention off the ground.

Nikola Tesla had a lengthy fight with Thomas Edison over whether AC was better than DC before wowing the crowds – and winning the battle – by lighting up the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.

That same year a French newspaper announced a race from Paris to Rouen for horseless carriages and while vehicles powered by steam, electricity, compressed air and hydraulics were all in the mix, the internal combustion engine won.

What innovators need is fans… and fast.

Small wonder then that Japan is seeing the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games as an opportunity to gather support for Japanese ideas on the future of mobility. With an expected 11,000 athletes and nearly one million foreign visitors descending on the capital, Japan will have a captive audience forced to try out any mobility solutions simply to get around. And trying new technology – along with better understanding of it – is often key to believing.

Take automated transport. It offers the huge promise of greater safety, but while the technology is getting closer the public still seems wary. Research in 2017 by the American Automobile Association found that three-quarters of Americans were afraid to get into a self-driving car. Even though in 2016 there were 40,200 fatal traffic accidents across the States – only one of which involved a car on autopilot.

Winning over the crowds

What you need is people to try automated transport – and at least a few people could be won over if the Japanese gaming company DeNa succeeds in its aim of putting driverless taxis on the streets of Tokyo for the Games. Likewise the autonomous mobility shuttle on offer to ferry athletes and staff around the Olympic and Paralympic villages courtesy of Toyota – Tokyo 2020's official transport partner. The specially-designed e-Palette's accuracy in pulling up to each designated stop will make it easier for those in wheelchairs. And while it can drive itself at speeds of up to 20 km/h, there will be a safety operator on board.

Meanwhile we would all applaud some progress on the issue of how future transport will be fuelled. Electric motors might be ahead, but battery technology has not advanced as quickly as many had hoped and in numerous countries electricity generating capacity is marginal and dirty. That leaves an opening for hydrogen-powered fuel cells and while many carmakers have toyed with it, Toyota is one of the few to have persevered. Its Mirai hydrogen car will be among the 500 fuel-cell electric vehicles on the streets for transporting Games attendees.

Testing out new technology is always a gamble – and the last thing Tokyo wants is a horde of unhappy athletes and tourists on its hands. But if its plans come off, then it could have created a helpful group of converts, ready to spread the word around the globe about the future of transport technology.