TECH NEWS – After an accident, Toyota is relaunching its autonomous vehicles in the Tokyo Paralympic Games village, with ongoing development and expansion of its support staff. The head of the company has personally apologised.
Services of the e-Palette pods were halted after a vehicle hit a visually impaired athlete last week. The athlete was not seriously injured but had to cancel a competition due to cuts and bruises. Aramitsu Kitazono, a member of the Japanese judo team, was hit on Thursday as he was crossing a pedestrian crossing. Mr Kitazono was unable to compete in his 81kg category because of the accident.
Operators will more closely monitor the vehicles, and extra staff will be provided to ensure that no more people are hit. In a statement late Monday night, Toyota said, “The vehicle’s sensor detected the pedestrian crossing and activated the automatic brake, and the operator also activated the emergency brake. However, the vehicle and pedestrians made contact before it came to a complete stop”.
The company said that operators will now have control over the speed at which the vehicles travel, and instead of one, there will be two safety staff on board to help keep an eye on pedestrians. The new safety features will include louder warning sounds, while the number of pedestrian guides at busy crossings in the Paralympic Village will increase from six to 20.
Toyota also said it would continue to make safety improvements “daily” until the village closes. The company also said it was cooperating with local police investigations to determine the cause of the accident. On Friday, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda publicly apologised after the incident. “A vehicle is stronger than a person, so obviously, I was worried about how they were doing,” he said in a YouTube video.
Mr Toyoda said the accident illustrated how difficult it is to operate self-driving vehicles in the exceptional circumstances of the village during the Paralympics, where there are people with visual impairments or other disabilities. “It shows that autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic on normal roads,” he added.
This is where it all started:
The company’s e-Palette pod, a fully autonomous electric vehicle, was specially adapted for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, with large doors and electric ramps to allow groups of athletes to board quickly. Like many of its automotive rivals, the world’s largest carmaker is striving to develop autonomous vehicles that can travel safely on public roads.
The e-Palette was unveiled at the 2018 CES technology show in Las Vegas. The company hailed it as “a symbol of mobility that goes beyond cars to deliver services and new value to customers”. Mr Toyoda said at the time that Toyota would transform from a car company to a “mobility company”.
Source: BBC News