The autonomous Toyota e-Pallette hit a visually impaired athlete at the Paralympic Games last week.
A few years ago at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, Toyota presented the e-Pallette, a fully autonomous EV pod that can be used as a bus, a shuttle, or a small delivery vehicle. Toyota allows third-party companies to install their own autonomous driving systems for the e-Pallette.
Back then, Toyota announced it was working with companies like Amazon, Pizza Hut, and Uber to develop hardware and software for the autonomous EV. More recently, the e-Palette was adapted with large doors and electric ramps to transport athletes around the Tokyo Paralympic Games, but it didn't generate the publicity Toyota had hoped for.
Last week, Toyota's e-Pallette shuttle bus service was suspended after one of the autonomous EVs hit and injured Aramitsu Kitazono, a visually impaired Japanese athlete, at a pedestrian crossing. Fortunately, Kitazono wasn't seriously injured, but the athlete was forced to retire from the Paralympic Games after suffering cuts and bruises.
It's an embarrassing situation for Toyota, which was forced to issue an official apology. "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," Toyota said in a statement.
After assessing the incident, Toyota announced that the e-Palette shuttle service will resume within the Athletes' Village with improved safety measures. To make sure this doesn't happen again, the volume of the e-Pallette's approach-warning sounds will be increased and operators will now manually control acceleration, deceleration, and stopping. However, unlike the self-driving Volvo XC90 Uber taxi that hit and killed a pedestrian a few years ago, the e-Pallette was under manual control when the accident happened.
There will also be more safety staff onboard to look out for pedestrians and the number of guides at intersections will increase from six to over 20. Toyota says it will continue to improve the e-Pallette's safety at the village on a "daily basis" and will corporate with police while the accident is under investigation.