On Friday, one of these e-Palette pods hit a pedestrian as it was making a turn. The pedestrian, who was a blind athlete scheduled to compete on Saturday, was hospitalized and eventually discharged after the medical checkup, but Toyota has still decided to sideline the pods until further notice. According to CEO Akio Toyoda, the carmaker is working with the authorities in the ongoing investigation, Reuters reports.
The e-Palettes are not designed to travel at high speeds, even when they do finally achieve Level 5 autonomy, which will mean they will operate on their own, without a human operator to take over when something goes bad. For Level 4, they’re meant to travel at a max speed of 19 kph (11.8 mph), with a range of 150 km (83.2 miles), and seating for 20 passengers (including the human operator), or for 7 passengers standing and 4 wheelchairs.
According to Toyoda, the pod involved in the incident was making a turn at 1 or 2 kph (0.6-1.2 mph) when it hit the pedestrian. The human operator was in control at the joystick, too. Still, Toyoda says “that autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic for normal roads,” let alone for the “special circumstances of the village.”
Toyoda has also offered apologies and promised that Toyota was working to prevent such incidents from happening, while working with the local authorities.