Automotive manufacturer Toyota has suspended all self-driving ‘e-Palette’ following a collision with a visually impaired Paralympian at 1-2 km/hr, injuring the athlete. Seeing the Olympics and Paralympics as an opportunity to showcase the company’s technological advancements, Toyota introduced twenty of its self-driving ‘e-Palette’ pods to transport participants to and from events. Originally unveiled in 2019, Toyota explained that the e-Palette would use low-speed SAE level 4 technology.
Self-driving cars have been in testing for years, with car manufactures such as Tesla making strides to make the technology a reality. Even Apple is rumored to be entering the self-driving car scene as early as 2024. The technology is far from complete, however, and even market leader Tesla has seen some of its cars crash while under automated control. It is important to work out every possible issue with self-driving technology to ensure not only the safety of customers but also the safety of the public at large.
Safety appears to be an issue for Toyota as well. According to Reuters, the incident occurred in the Olympic Village. The self-driving vehicle stopped at a T-junction and was about to make a turn under the manual control of the operator using a joystick but overshot the turn, hitting the visually impaired athlete at a speed of between 1 and 2 km/hr. The athlete has not been identified but was conscious after the incident. They were immediately rushed to the athlete’s medical center and were then able to walk back to the Olympic Village.
Toyota’s CEO Akio Toyoda apologized in a Youtube live stream and said that he offered to meet with the athlete but was unable to do so. “A vehicle is stronger than a person, so I was obviously worried about how they were,” he said in the stream. He also added that autonomous vehicles are not yet ready for the road. He also noted the difficulties for self-driving cars to operate in special circumstances such as in the Paralympic Village where you are much more likely to come in contact with people who are either visually or physically impaired.
The incident has done very little to impact Toyota’s business as their stock price continues a gradual increase over the course of the day. The athlete is still set to compete tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. local time. The company said it was cooperating with a local police probe to determine the cause of the accident, adding that it would also conduct its own investigation. The Japanese automotive manufacturer also said it would continue to coordinate closely with the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to prevent any further incidents.
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