Tokyo Paralympics: Toyota suspends self-driving buses after visually-impaired athlete injured in collision

·2-min read
Toyota Chief Executive Akio Toyoda apologised for the incident and said he offered to meet the person (GETTY IMAGES)
Toyota Chief Executive Akio Toyoda apologised for the incident and said he offered to meet the person (GETTY IMAGES)

A visually-impaired Paralympian was injured after being hit by a Toyota self-driving vehicle in the athletes’ village.

Aramitsu Kitazono – the Paralympian judoka – competing in the men’s 81kg division, will miss his match scheduled for Saturday, Yoshiyasu Endo, his coach, told Japan Times.

The Japanese automaker said Friday, it had suspended all self-driving e-Palette transportation pods at the Tokyo Paralympic Games village a day after the incident.

The collision left Kitazono with bruises on his head and body, but he was still conscious and could walk back to his residence. He was immediately rushed to a nearby medical centre after he collapsed due to the collision while on his way to the dining hall.

Endo said he is resting and eating without problems but is disappointed that he will miss the match on Saturday.

Toyota Chief Executive Akio Toyoda apologised for the incident and said he offered to meet the person but could not do so.

“A vehicle is stronger than a person, so I was obviously worried about how they were,” he said, answering questions about the incident.

The vehicle had stopped at a T junction and was about to turn under manual control of the operator, who was using the vehicle’s joystick control when the car hit the athlete going at around 1 or 2 kilometres an hour, Toyoda said.

Toyoda said the accident showed the difficulty for the self-driving vehicle to operate in the special circumstances of the village during the Paralympics with people there who are visually impaired or have other disabilities.

“It shows that autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic for normal roads,” he said.

The e-Palette, a fully autonomous battery-electric vehicle, was adapted specifically for use during the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games (Toyota)
The e-Palette, a fully autonomous battery-electric vehicle, was adapted specifically for use during the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games (Toyota)

The e-Palette, a fully autonomous battery-electric vehicle, was adapted specifically for use during the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, with large doors and electric ramps to allow groups of athletes to board quickly.

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.

In its statement, Toyota said it would continue to coordinate closely with the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to prevent further incidents.

Paralympic Games organisers were not immediately available for comment.

The 2020 Paralympic Games started on Tuesday in Tokyo amid soaring coronavirus cases and an overstretched healthcare system.

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