Toyota “autonomous” shuttle hits Paralympic athlete out of “overconfidence”

One of Toyota’s autonomous shuttles deployed in the Olympic and Paralympic Village struck a visually impaired judoka, depriving him of his round of 16 (but his life is not in danger).

Visually impaired Japanese judoka Aramitsu Kitazono was unable to participate in his round of 16 -81 kg at the Paralympic Games, which was scheduled to take place on August 28. He had to forfeit due to cuts and bruises from an accident two days earlier, the Guardian reported.

An autonomous vehicle, the Toyota “e-Palette”, crashed into him as he crossed a zebra crossing in the Olympic and Paralympic Village. Several copies of these driverless minibuses have been circulating on campus since the beginning of the summer to facilitate the movement of athletes. This demonstration was to serve as a first showcase for the e-Palette shuttle device, presented in December 2020, and was part of the sponsorship contract for the games by Toyota. In a statement released on August 27, the company apologized and announced the opening of a full investigation into the causes of the accident.

At the Rio Paralympic Games in 2016, Aramitsu Kitazono fought in the under 73 kg category. // Source: Paralympic Games

But that’s not all: the president of the company Akio Toyoda also took the floor to question autonomous driving: “ this shows that autonomous vehicles cannot yet be realistically deployed on normal roads “. The Japanese manufacturer has temporarily suspended service, and recognized a ” overconfidence »In the autonomous driving capacity of his vehicle.

Such a human failure

According to the local newspaperThe Asahi Shimbun, the accident which deprived Kitazono of competition was not just the machine’s error. To support the e-Palette experiment, two operators of the device were on board the vehicle, alongside five passengers. They told the police that they “ were aware that a person was there, but they thought they would stop when they saw that a bus was coming “. Problems: the visually impaired judoka could not see the vehicle, and moreover, the shuttle being electric, it could hardly be heard.

A truly autonomous vehicle would have detected the pedestrian crossing, and given priority to the athlete when stopping. But since the e-Palette was unable to recognize either the situation or the obstacle in front of it, it was up to the operators to initiate emergency braking, which they did not do.

In addition, a security officer in charge of traffic was also nearby during the accident, but he did not intervene in time. Fortunately, this failure did not lead to drama: certainly, Kitazono had to end his third Games prematurely, but he got away with only 2 weeks of stoppage, while none of the passengers of the e-Palette did was injured.

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