Toyota suspends use of autonomous vehicle after running over Paralympic athlete

An autonomous vehicle from Toyota barely moved, but still managed to run over a visually impaired athlete in the Tokyo Paralympic Games, raising potential concerns about the limitations of autonomous driving technology.

Toyota’s CEO apologized on Friday (27), in a video posted on YouTube after one of the company’s autonomous vehicles hit the athlete as he was driving at 1 to 2 kilometers an hour around the Olympic Village in Tokyo.
“This shows that autonomous vehicles still don’t work on normal roads,” CEO Akio Toyoda said in Japanese in the video, according to the Reuters translation.

The use of vehicles in the Paralympics was stopped amid an investigation of the incident by the police and the company, Toyota confirmed to the CNN Business.

Toyota (TM) has provided a specially designed version of its battery-powered automated “e-Palette” vehicles to transport athletes and employees during the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, which began earlier this week.

Toyota worked with Paralympic athletes to develop the vehicles, which include “handrails and seats that are easy to use regardless of height” and electric ramps for wheelchair cyclists, the company said in a press release about the cars.

He also said the automated vehicles were designed to move at low speeds to increase safety, but that didn’t help Japanese Paralympic judo athlete Arimitsu Kitazono.

Kitazono was crossing a crosswalk in the athlete’s village when an e-Palette turned right and hit him at a very slow speed, according to a report by Japanese news agency Asahi Shimbun. At the time, the vehicle was under the manual control of an operator, who told police that he “was aware that a person was there, but thought (that person) would (realize that a bus was arriving) and stop crossing the ( street)”, reported Asahi.

“A vehicle is stronger than a person, so I was obviously worried,” Toyoda said in the video, according to Reuters.

The athlete injured his head and legs and was treated at the Olympic Village. Nikkei Asia said Kitazono’s coach said he would miss the men’s judo match, which was scheduled to compete on Saturday.

“We would like to express our sincere apologies to the individual who was injured due to this unfortunate collision and wish them a speedy recovery,” Toyota said in a statement. “We would also like to apologize for any inconvenience caused to those who use our mobility vehicles in Vila dos Atletas.”

(Translated text, click here to read the original in English).