According to Reuters, Toyota has paused its self-driving shuttle service in Tokyo’s Olympic village after one of its vehicles collided with a visually impaired athlete. Technically, the car was not operating autonomously at the time of the accident but was under manual control.
During the Olympics, Toyota had dozens of its “e-Palette” shuttles running as a showcase of a far-fetched concept the company first showed off in 2018. The company said at the time that its e-Palettes, which are battery-electric vehicles with no standard controls such as steering wheels or pedals, could be used as ride-hailing shuttles or mobile retail spaces.
The Olympics provided Toyota with an opportunity to showcase its innovative technology. Athletes and Olympic staff have been using the boxy vehicles for months previous to the start of the summer games.
But that came to a stop last week when one of the trucks collided with a Paralympic competitor who was preparing to compete. The shuttle was at a T-intersection when it collided with the athlete at a speed of 1-2 kilometres per hour, according to Reuters. At the time, the vehicle was under manual control, with a human operator operating the joystick. After being transferred to a nearby medical facility for treatment, the athlete was able to walk back to their home.
In a YouTube video, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda apologized for the accident. According to Reuters, he stated, “It illustrates that autonomous vehicles are not yet viable for typical roads.”
The e-Palette service has been discontinued as a result of the crash, according to a spokeswoman, who could not specify when it will be reinstated. The e-Palette program, however, will not be terminated as a result of this, according to the spokeswoman. “This does not mean the entire e-Palette program has been terminated beyond its current use at the Games,” he clarified.
Toyota’s shuttles resemble the low-speed autonomous pods that are currently in use in cities all around the world. In 2017, a self-driving shuttle in Las Vegas collided with a truck while in autonomous mode. Investigators eventually discovered that the incident happened in part because the shuttle’s safety operator didn’t have immediate access to the manual override controls.