After an e-Palette pod autonomous vehicle hit a visually impaired athlete at the Paralympic Games village in Tokyo, the services were halted indefinitely. While the athlete was not seriously hurt, he did pull out of an event after receiving cuts and bruises. However, Toyota will resume the pods services with some modifications.
The autonomous vehicles will have more operator control and more staff added on to make sure that nobody else will get hit. One of Japan’s judo team members, Atamitsu Kitazono was hit as he was walking at a pedestrian crossing. He did not compete in the 81kg category following the accident.
Toyota released a statement saying: “The vehicle’s sensor detected the pedestrian crossing and activated the automatic brake, and the operator also activated the emergency brake. The vehicle and pedestrians, however, came into contact before it came to a complete halt.”
Toyota also shared that the operators will now have control over how fast the automobiles travel and will increase the safety staff aboard from one to two in order to help look out for pedestrians.
More safety features added include louder warning sounds and an increase in pedestrian guides at busy crossings from six to 20 total. Toyota has also assured that safety improvements will be ongoing “on a daily basis” until the village will close down. The company also shared that it will be working with local police to investigate the accident.
Toyota’s chief executive Akio Toyoda publicly apologized after the accident took place. He said: A vehicle is stronger than a person, so I was obviously worried about how they were. It shows that autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic for normal roads.”
He highlighted that it is still quite difficult to operate self-driving vehicles, especially in the circumstances of the Paralympics village.
Toyota’s e-Palette pod is a fully autonomous vehicle that was adapted for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. They have large doors and electric ramps to allow large groups of people to board.
The company’s goal is to create self-driving cars that are safe for public roads as well. The e-Palette was first unveiled at CES tech show in Las Vegas in 2018, with the company calling it “a symbol of mobility that goes beyond cars to provide customers services and new values.”
That was also when Mr. Toyoda said that company will shift from being a car company to a “mobility company.”