Japanese automaker Toyota Motor has decided to suspend all self-driving e-Palette transportation pods. The vehicles have been operating at the Tokyo Paralympic Games village.
A recent accident injuring a visually impaired pedestrian caused by one of the vehicles led to this decision.
Toyota Chief Executive Akio Toyoda also sent out apologies in regards to the incident through a YouTube video. Toyoda also offered to individually meet the person affected, but was unable to do so.
“A vehicle is stronger than a person, so I was obviously worried about how they were,” he said while answering questions regarding the accident, as quoted from Reuters.
A look into the incident
Toyoda said the accident showed the difficulty for the self-driving vehicle to operate in the special circumstances of the village during the Paralympics with people there who are visually impaired or have other disabilities.
“It shows that autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic for normal roads,” Toyoda continued.
The vehicle had stopped at a T junction and was about to turn under manual control of the operator, who was using the vehicle’s joystick control, when the vehicle hit the athlete going at around 1 or 2 kilometres an hour, Toyoda said. He said Paralympic officials had told him that the athlete, who remained conscious, was taken to the athlete village medical centre for treatment and was able to walk back to their residence.
The athlete is due to compete on Saturday at 1030 local time, Toyoda said.
The e-Palette by Toyota is a fully autonomous battery-electric vehicle. These vehicles were specifically adapted for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Installed with large doors and electric ramps, the e-Palette is designed to ease groups of athletes to board quickly.
The company said it was cooperating with a local police probe to determine the cause of the accident, adding that it would also conduct its own investigation.
In its statement, the Japanese automaker said it would continue to coordinate closely with the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to prevent any further incidents.
Paralympic Games organizers were not immediately available for comment.
The 2020 Paralympic Games began on Tuesday in Tokyo, even as Japan struggles with its worst COVID-19 outbreak, with record daily cases and an overwhelmed medical system.
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