After suspending operation of its self-driving shuttles at the Tokyo Paralympic Games following an incident late last week, Toyota says it will resume operation of its e-Palette autonomous people movers after adopting several safety improvement measures after consultation with the Paralympic organising committee.
Automotive News Europe reports that after “troubleshooting” the incident with Toyota the body agreed to restart the e-Palette service today. Service was suspended last Thursday, after the accident.
The accident occurred when a visually impaired athlete, Japanese judo veteran Aramitsu Kitazono was crossing the road on a pedestrian crossing when the Toyota e-Palette, travelling at 1 to 2 kilometres per hour hit him, leaving him with bruises and forcing him to withdraw from competition over the weekend.
Following the accident Toyota President Akio Toyoda apologised for the accident in a YouTube interview, saying “It shows that autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic for normal roads”, but after further investigation of the incident, it seems that both the vehicle and the human safety operators were at likely to be at fault.
According to Toyota, the self-driving e-Palette – which has two human safety operators onboard at the Paralympics – stops automatically when it detects a pedestrian crossing the road, and one of the operators then manually resumes operations when the pedestrian has crossed, while human traffic directors at the crossings also help guard against accidents.
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In last week’s incident, however, the e-Palette and onboard operators both failed to activate the brakes in time. Local media reported that the onboard operator “mistakenly thought Kitazono would realise the e-Palette was coming and stop walking.” It wasn’t immediately clear if a roadside traffic director was present.
Toyota says it has since made several safety improvements to the e-Palettes before resuming the service, including louder warning sounds, ensuring acceleration and stopping will be handled manually, not automatically, and giving e-Palette operators additional training.
The number of human traffic directors at intersections will also be increased from six to more than 20, with some of the additional traffic guides being dedicated to directing vehicles while others will be responsible for handling pedestrians.
The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games were to be a global showcase of Toyota’s autonomous-driving technology, with a fleet of 16 of the battery-electric, automated vehicles being adapted specifically for use during the Games based in part on feedback from athletes about their mobility needs in the past games.
The “Tokyo 2020 Version” was adapted to feature large doors and electric ramps to allow groups of athletes, including Paralympians, to board quickly and easily.
Toyota said it would work to refine and improve the technology over the course of the Games.