Add Auditory-Warning Systems to AV Shuttles to Ensure Pedestrian Safety, Especially for the Visually Impaired, Based on Lessons from the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

After an Automated Shuttle Struck a Visually Impaired Pedestrian in the Olympic Village, the Manufacturer Reviewed and Implemented Additional Safety Features to Reduce the Risk of Future Collisions.

Date Posted

Toyota to Restart Self-Driving Olympic Village Vehicles with More Safety Staff

Summary Information

Olympic Villages are great pilot deployment locations for automated shuttles because of their controlled access, natural end date, and public visibility. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics Games (July 23 - August 8, 2021) and Paralympic Games (August 24 - September 5, 2021) partnered with a mobility company to add automated shuttles to the transit modes, which was available to athletes and staff participating at the games. The fully automated battery-electric shuttle was designed for accessibility with handrails and seats, large doors, and electric ramps. The initial deployment had one safety driver onboard and six guides at high-traffic pedestrian crossings. A crash occurred when the pedestrian was in the crosswalk. The vehicle made a right turn and struck a visually impaired athlete. One of shuttles struck a visually impaired athlete while driving at one to two kilometers per hour (0.6-1.2 mph) at a junction around the Olympic Village in Tokyo. The automated shuttle use at the Paralympics was halted amid an investigation of the incident by the police and the manufacturer. Their operation then resumed after several safety precautions were taken.

Lessons learned can be synthesized from media reporting as follows: 

  • Add auditory-warning systems to AV Shuttles and consider additional human oversight for increased safety. After the incident, warning sounds were turned up on the automated shuttles and a second human safety driver was added in-vehicle. The number of crosswalk guides was increased from 6 to 20 at crowded locations.
  • Remember that even multiple levels of redundancy can still fail. During the collision, both the automatic and manual brake were activated to prevent the crash. The operator was aware of the pedestrian, but assumed he would stop.
  • Keep in mind that margin for error in automated vehicle operations is very low. The vehicle was traveling at less than 2 kilometers per hour (1.2 mi/h) at the time of contact, yet the crash resulted in bruises and cuts which prevented the athlete from competing.
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