Services of the e-Palette pods in Tokyo were halted after a vehicle hit a visually impaired athlete. The athlete, a member of Japan’s judo team, was not seriously injured, but he had to pull out of an event due cuts and bruises. And as a result, the vehicles will now have more operator control and extra staff to ensure they do not hit any more people.
Aramitsu Kitazono was hit as he was walking across a pedestrian crossing on Thursday. He was unable to compete in his 81kg category because of the accident.
In a statement put out late yesterday, Toyota said: "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."
Taking extra security measures
The company said that operators would now be given control over how fast the vehicles travel, with two members of safety staff on board, rather than one, to help look out for pedestrians.
It added the new safety features will also include louder warning sounds, while pedestrian guides at busy crossings in the Paralympic village will be increased to 20 from six.
Toyota also said that it would continue to make safety improvements "on a daily basis" until the village closes. The company added it was co-operating with a local police investigation to determine the cause of the accident.
Chief executive's apology
On Friday, Toyota chief executive Akio Toyoda made a public apology after the incident. In a YouTube video, he said: "A vehicle is stronger than a person, so I was obviously worried about how they were.”
Mr Toyoda said the accident illustrated just how difficult it was to operate self-driving vehicles in the special circumstances of the village during the Paralympics, with people there who are visually impaired or have other disabilities.
He added in the statement: "It shows that autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic for normal roads.”.
Toyota's e-Palette pod, which is a fully autonomous electric vehicle, was adapted specifically for use during the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, with large doors and electric ramps to allow groups of athletes to board quickly.
The world's biggest carmaker, like many of its motor industry rivals, is trying to develop autonomous vehicles to operate safely on public roads.
The e-Palette was unveiled at the CES technology show in Las Vegas in 2018, with the company touting it as "a symbol of mobility that goes beyond cars to provide customers services and new values."
At that time, Mr Toyoda declared that Toyota was going to transform itself from a car company to a "mobility company".