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Toyota Autonomous e-Palette Pods Are Back on Duty After One Hit a Pedestrian

Last week, Toyota announced that it was sidelining all 16 autonomous e-Palette pods that had been in circulation at the Olympic Village in Tokyo for the 2020 Paralympic Games. The decision followed an incident in which one of the pods had hit a visually blind pedestrian as he was crossing the street.
The Toyota e-Palette will be fully autonomous one day, with Level 4 units being deployed at the Olympic Village in Tokyo 11 photos
Photo: Toyota
The Toyota e-Palette pod is an autonomous electric pod ideal for urban transportation and service fleetsThe Toyota e-Palette pod is an autonomous electric pod ideal for urban transportation and service fleetsThe Toyota e-Palette pod is an autonomous electric pod ideal for urban transportation and service fleetsThe Toyota e-Palette pod is an autonomous electric pod ideal for urban transportation and service fleetsThe Toyota e-Palette pod is an autonomous electric pod ideal for urban transportation and service fleetsThe Toyota e-Palette pod is an autonomous electric pod ideal for urban transportation and service fleetsThe Toyota e-Palette pod is an autonomous electric pod ideal for urban transportation and service fleetsThe Toyota e-Palette pod is an autonomous electric pod ideal for urban transportation and service fleetsThe Toyota e-Palette pod is an autonomous electric pod ideal for urban transportation and service fleetsThe Toyota e-Palette pod is an autonomous electric pod ideal for urban transportation and service fleets
The e-Palette pods are Toyota’s proposition for all-electric, fully-autonomous urban transportation, but the current phase of development is Level 4 autonomy. So they still need human operators. Even as early as 2019, the carmaker was saying the upcoming Olympic Games would be the perfect venue to showcase its progress in autonomous driving, with a fleet of 16 pods traveling across the Olympic Village, helping athletes move faster – and safer – from point A to point B.

The fleet did go into operation, albeit one year later, due to the delay to the Games caused by the international health crisis. Last week, with the Paralympic Games in full swing, one of them hit and injured a pedestrian crossing the street. The collision took place at a slow speed, as the vehicle was making a turn, and Toyota responded by immediately pulling all pods out of circulation.

They will go back into circulation today, Tuesday, August 31, Toyota announced yesterday, as reported by Automotive News. More context for the collision was also provided.

The injured pedestrian has been identified as visually impaired judoka Aramitsu Kitazono, and the bruising and mild injuries he sustained prevented him from participating in the Games last weekend. Standard procedure for the pods at pedestrian crossings is to have the vehicle brake automatically when it nears one, with either of the two human operators on board deciding when it’s time to move again.

Both the pod and one of the human operators were at fault this time: both braked too late, and the human operator did it because he assumed the pedestrian would see the vehicle coming and stop walking. Clearly, Kitazono could not – and did not – do that.

To keep such incidents from happening, Toyota has announced a series of added safety measures. As of today, the pods will generate a louder sound when traveling, braking and accelerating will now be done manually only, more traffic controllers will be positioned at intersections, and human operators will receive additional training. The irony of employing one that expected a pedestrian to see a vehicle and stop walking during the Paralympic Games is clearly not lost on Toyota.
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About the author: Elena Gorgan
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Elena has been writing for a living since 2006 and, as a journalist, she has put her double major in English and Spanish to good use. She covers automotive and mobility topics like cars and bicycles, and she always knows the shows worth watching on Netflix and friends.
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