Toyota Pauses Robot-Car Program Citing Drivers’ Emotional Toll

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg News

Toyota Motor Corp. has halted tests of its “Chauffeur” autonomous driving system on U.S. public roads after a Uber Technologies Inc. vehicle operating in autonomous mode under the supervision of a human safety driver struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona, on March 18.

“Because we feel the incident may have an emotional effect on our test drivers, we have decided to temporarily pause our Chauffeur mode testing on public roads,” spokesman Brian Lyons said in an e-mailed statement, referring to its hands-off testing mode.

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The carmaker said it could not speculate on the cause of the crash or what it may mean to the future of the nascent automated driving sector.

Toyota had been doing on-road testing with self-driving vehicles in Michigan and California, Lyons said. The company has kept the number of vehicles small so they could be rapidly updated as the technology advances, he said, declining to name a specific number of self-driving vehicles in operation.

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Prior to the incident, Toyota has been working on a plan to team up with Uber on autonomous driving. Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber, posted a photo on Twitter with Toyota President Akio Toyoda at the automaker’s headquarters, though details on the collaboration have been slim.

Lyons said March 20 that its self-driving unit, Toyota Research Institute, “does not have first-hand information on the tragic traffic fatality.” A Toyota spokesman said last week the automaker hadn’t yet decided whether to buy Uber’s driverless-car software.