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Toyota pauses self-driving ‘e-Palette’ service after one crashed into an Olympic athlete

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The vehicle was reportedly under manual control at the time of the incident

Toyota has halted its autonomous shuttle service in Tokyo’s Olympic village after one of its vehicles collided with a visually impaired athlete, Reuters reported. Technically, the vehicle was not driving autonomously but was under manual control at the time of the incident.

Toyota had been operating dozens of its “e-Palette” shuttles during the Olympics as a demonstration of a far-out concept the company first showed off in 2018. Back then, the automaker said its e-Palettes, which are modular battery-electric vehicles without traditional controls like steering wheels or pedals, could operate either as ride-hailing shuttles or mobile retail spaces.

Toyota saw the Olympics as an opportunity to demonstrate its new technology. The boxy vehicles were being used by athletes and Olympics staff for months prior to the start of the summer games.

But that came to an end this week, after one of the vehicles slammed into an athlete that was set to compete in the Paralympic Games. According to Reuters, the shuttle was at a T-intersection when it turned into the athlete at a speed of 1-2 kilometers-per-hour. The vehicle was under manual control at the time, with a human operator using the joystick control. The athlete was taken to a nearby medical center for treatment and was able to walk back to their residence.

Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda acknowledged the crash in a video posted to YouTube. “It shows that autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic for normal roads,” he said, according to Reuters.

A spokesperson confirmed that the e-Palette service has been halted as a result of the crash and could not say when it would be resumed. But this doesn’t spell the ultimate end of the e-Palette program, the spokesperson said. “This doesn’t mean the entire e-Palette program beyond its current use at the Games has been halted,” he said.

Toyota’s shuttles look similar to the low-speed autonomous pods that are in operation in cities around the world. In 2017, a driverless shuttle crashed into a truck in Las Vegas while in autonomous mode. Investigators later determined that the crash occurred partly because the safety operator inside the shuttle didn’t have direct access to the manual override controls.