All of its self-driving e-Palette transportation pods at the Tokyo Paralympic Games village were suspended by Toyota Motor on Friday after a visually impaired pedestrian was injured in a collision with one of the vehicles.
Apologizing for the accident, Toyota Chief Executive Akio Toyoda, in a YouTube video, said that he had tried ot meet the injured person but had been unable to do so.
“A vehicle is stronger than a person, so I was obviously worried about how they were,” he said, answering questions about the incident.
The challenges posed to the self-driving vehicle in operating in the special circumstances of the village during the Paralympics was highlighted by the accident, Toyoda said, because there are people who are visually impaired or have other disabilities in the area.
“It shows that autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic for normal roads,” he said.
Toyoda said that the accident occurred when the self-driving vehicle had stopped at a T junction and was just about to make a turn while being under human control of the operators. The human controller was managing the car with the vehicle’s joystick control. It was at this point that the vehicle hit the athlete while it was travelling at around 1 or 2 kilometres an hour.
The athlete, who was still conscious after the incident, was taken to the athlete village medical centre for treatment, Paralympic officials had told him, Toyoda said. The athlete was able to walk back to their residence in the village after treatment.
The athlete was due to compete on Saturday at 1030 local time, Toyoda said.
Toyota had specifically adapted the e-Palette, a completely autonomous battery electric vehicle, to suit the needs of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. The vehicle was fitted with larger doors than normal and had electric ramps so that groups of athletes could get on to the vehicles quickly.
Toyota was working with the local police probing the incident to ascertain the cause of the accident, the company said and added that it would start its own investigation into the incident as well.
It would continue to coordinate closely with the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games so that such incidents and accidents do not happen further, the Japanese automaker said in its statement.
No comments on the incident were available from Paralympic Games organizers.
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
(Adapted from LiveMint.com)