Image Source Toyota
The Autonomous Vehicle e-Palette
During the 2021 Tokyo Paralympics Toyota has been using the autonomous vehicle known as the e-Palette. This is a self driving multifunction vehicle and has been modified in this case to accommodate the athletes. It includes things such as ramp access and help for vision impaired athletes. The e-Palette is usually a pretty smart piece of tech. It can be converted into almost anything including a food truck or even a hotel room! Its best known for its versatility.
Image Source Toyota
Despite the untapped potential of such a service, Toyota had to pull the autonomous vehicle from use. The reason being a crash between a e-Palette and a vision impaired athlete. Fortunately there was no reports of serious injuries. After the incident the Athlete was inspected by medical professionals and was able to walk to their destination.
Toyota had a lot to say about the event. The main takeaway from the response from Akio Toyota (Toyotas chief executive) is the following quote:
““autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic for normal roads”
Wether you agree or disagree there is more to the story. Firstly that the victim of the collision turned down the opportunity to speak with the Toyota Executive about the incident. Mr. Toyota claims that the autonomous vehicle was in fact not operating independently but rather was preparing for a turn under human control. He pointed out that the “aircraft” style joystick could have contributed to the indecent. Assumably because of the counter intuitive nature of steering a land vehicle with a flight stick. It’s a shame that the athlete did not want to share their experiences with Toyota so we could get a second opinion on the matter. The quote saying it could have contributed to the incident leaves us dissatisfied with how strong the story is. If the issue truly lies with autonomous vehicles then this statement makes little sense. It spreads the blame and blurs the line between human error or autonomous driving fault.
Image Source Visor
Toyota says they will offer full cooperation when working side by side with the Tokyo Police force. Together they hope to discover exactly the cause of the indecent. The e-Pallet autonomous vehicle will not be cancelled. At least no such comments have been made. However for now the project is on “pause” whilst they get to the bottom of the cause of the collision. Autonomous driving and the way the vehicles make their decisions is a hot topic for contention since its inception. Even more so than the moral dilemmas we’re asking computers to solve in a split second. The other problem we’re faced with is that even if we perfected how these artificially intelligent vehicles make their choices we’ll still have issues. If we perfect AI we still need to perfect computers. A single glitch, power surge, blown fuse or other anomaly could cost lives. In this case we’d to make redundant safety systems and sub systems to back up the main computer that operates the vehicle.
There’s an idea that if all cars are autonomous they could communicate with each other, making it a safer all round. The odds of entire sections of roads being reserved for autonomous only vehicles in the near future seems unlikely. So now we need an autonomous driving system that can perfectly drive on a road and interpret its surroundings whilst also being aware of other drivers who may driver erratically, not follow all the traffic norms and rules or simply be “bad drivers”. Will an autonomous vehicle be able to make the safest choice in the shortest amount of time?