Toyota Chief Executive Akio Toyoda apologised for an incident at the Tokyo Olympic Games village. A self-driving e-Palette transportation pod collided with a visually impaired Paralympic athlete, which resulted in Toyota halting its autonomous shuttle service.
“It shows that autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic for normal roads,” said Toyoda regarding the incident.
In late 2020, Toyota announced that its e-Palette, a battery-electric vehicle for autonomous mobility, would be the transportation service for athletes and related staff in the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic villages. The e-Palettes don’t have traditional controls like steering wheels or pedals, and could operate either as ride-hailing shuttles or mobile retail spaces.
According to Toyota, vehicle abnormalities would be “automatically detected” and sent automatically to the depot, where a replacement vehicle would take its place to ensure stability of operation. However, there was no word on how they would have handled environmental abnormalities—like a pedestrian on the road or a fallen tree, for example.
One of the vehicles reportedly slammed into an athlete that was set to compete in the Paralympic Games. The shuttle itself was at a T-intersection when it turned into the athlete at a speed of 1-2 KM per hour. The athlete was taken to a nearby medical center for treatment and was able to walk back to their residence.
Interestingly, the e-Palette was under manual control at the time—with a human operator using the joystick control. However, a Toyota spokesperson confirmed that the e-Palette service has still been halted due to the crash, and could not say when it would be resumed.
“This doesn’t mean the entire e-Palette program beyond its current use at the Games has been halted,” the spokesperson continued.
There’s no information on what the pods would be replaced with during the remainder of the Paralympic Games—like, how are the athletes going to get around now? However, Toyota stated that they are “fully cooperating with the police investigation into the incident in order to determine the cause of this accident” and will conduct their own investigation.
“We would like to express our sincerest apologies to the individual that was injured due to this unfortunate collision and we wish them a speedy recovery. We would also like to apologize for any inconvenience caused to those who use our mobility vehicles in the Athletes’ Village,” said Toyota.