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Toyota resumes autonomous Paralympics buses after vehicle hit judo competitor, forced him out of match

More human guides recruited, trained to keep eyes on machines, athletes

Toyota’s autonomous shuttle service at the Paralympic games in Japan this year has recruited more humans to oversee its vehicles after one of the machines ran over an athlete.

Aramitsu Kitazono, 30, representing Japan in judo at the Paralympics, withdrew from the competition at the weekend after he was hit by Toyota’s autonomous e-Pallete vehicle, according to Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. Doctors advised the visually impaired fighter to pull out of his match over fears he may be suffering from mild concussion.

Although the car’s software and cameras detected a pedestrian in front of it, the machine failed to brake in time, according to Toyota. The vehicle had pulled away from a T-junction to go through a pedestrian crossing being used by Kitazono.

The shuttle service was suspended over the weekend as officials investigated the accident, which happened on Thursday, and it has now resumed with more human staff to monitor the autonomous shuttles.

“Toyota will continue to make improvements on a daily basis, even after the resumption of operations, until the closing of the Athletes’ Village for the Paralympic Games and will continue to cooperate with the Organizing Committee to ensure the safety and security of the athletes and other people involved in the Village,” the Japanese automaker said in a statement.

The number of workers who are tasked with looking out for e-Palettes and pedestrians and ensuring they don't collide, has increased from six to at least 20 at each intersection in the Athletes’ Village, and will receive more training on "the diverse needs of pedestrians which are unique to the Paralympics."

Toyota also promised to increase the volume of sounds emitted by the self-driving electric vehicles as they approach junctions and has rolled out a software change that makes it easier for human supervisors onboard to take over the acceleration and deceleration manually.

Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s president, apologized for the accident during an interview. “I’m sorry to have caused so many people to worry about this kind of contact accident,” he said.

The Register has asked Toyota for further comment. ®

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