Toyota Suspends Self-Driving Buses After Paralympic Accident

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Toyota suspended its autonomous bus services at the Tokyo Paralympics after an accident left an athlete injured.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda publicly apologized to the athlete following the accident.
The incident brings up questions around self-driving technology, specifically about how the tech is used in communities with disabilities.

Toyota suspended its fleet of battery-electric self-driving buses on Friday after an accident in the Tokyo Paralympics Village injured a Paralympic athlete.

“We would like to express our sincerest apologies to the individual that was injured due to this unfortunate collision and we wish them a speedy recovery,” Toyota said in a statement. “We would also like to apologize for any inconvenience caused to those who use our mobility vehicles in the Athletes’ Village.”

A Toyota spokesperson told Insider a schedule for resuming e-Palette transportation has not been determined.

Several Japanese news outlets identified the victim as Japanese Paralympic judoka Aramitsu Kitazono, who is visually impaired. The e-Palette bus was turning right at an T-intersection when the athlete entered a pedestrian crosswalk at a T-intersection near the Olympic residential dining halls, Reuters said.

Though there were operators providing backup support for the bus, Kitazono was struck by the bus moving one to two kilometers per hour, leaving him with several bruises but conscious, and he was taken to the nearby medical clinic to recover, police told the Japan Times. The two bus operators and five passengers onboard the bus were not harmed, they added.

Toyota’s e-Palette buses were commissioned to transport athletes both at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. The white, box-shaped buses are mostly autonomous, they still rely on one to two operators to ensure additional safety. The city began rolling out the vehicles for public testing months before the Olympic Games.

Toyota says it will be fully cooperating with authorities to determine the cause of the accident, as well as conducting its own thorough investigation into the accident, coordinating with the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to prevent further accident.

“It shows that autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic for normal roads,” Toyota President Akio Toyoda said in an interview, which Reuters reported, following the accident.

Autonomous vehicles continue to display glaring safety problems that can effect the well-being of their passengers. Though mobility-facing companies are making headway with self-driving vehicles, industry leaders like Elon Musk say their technology is still “not great.”

Experts previously told Insider that we are still “decades away” from seeing fully-autonomous vehicles on roads, citing infrastructure and connectivity issues. It is also unknown whether these types of vehicles have difficulty operating in environments when there are people with disabilities around.

Insider reached out to the Tokyo Organizing Committee, which was unable to provide more information on the athlete’s status.

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