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Hitachi Beats Clarkson

By raccars Published

Following Jeremy Clarkson's recent rather sarcastic attempt at creating 'the world's smallest car' on the latest series of Top Gear, Hitachi has now unveiled its 'ROPITS,' or Robot for Personal Intelligent Transport System. The Japanese manufacturer's alternative to Clarkson's P45 is also a single-occupant robot vehicle, but Hitachi's version improves significantly upon Top Gear's somewhat tongue in cheek experiment, using GPS technology to drive the car autonomously.

The programme's P45 reached a top speed of 34mph while testing in Guildford, versus the ROPITS' 4mph limit but looked distinctly uncomfortable, not to mention unsafe. However the point was made that in busy and increasingly crowded cities, there is a growing place for economic, single person passenger transport. Clarkson expressed astonishment at the major auto manufacturers' neglect of the concept in the show, which was broadcast in February this year. However, his attempt at filling that gap in the market could be called rudimentary at best, while Hitachi's version is considerably more sophisticated.

The ROPITS stands out not only for its tiny size, but also for its Knight Rider style technology, bringing the futuristic concept of the driverless car one-step closer to reality. The tiny vehicle can pick up and drop off passengers robotically or be driver controlled via a joystick in the cabin. It was created as an aid to the mobility impaired, a significant problem for Japan's rapidly growing elderly population and as such, is more suitable for use in pedestrian spaces and on pavements, than on the road.

The ROPITS navigates the streets with the aid of GPS and has 3D laser distance sensors and stereo cameras to negotiate obstacles, plus a gyro sensor and an active suspension system to control individual wheels and to maintain an upright position over uneven terrain. Passengers can enter the vehicle via a front hatch, select a destination via a touch-screen map in the cockpit and can then sit back and be automatically transported. The vehicle was introduced in Tsukuba city in Japan's Ibaraki Prefecture, where a network of the vehicles is planned to be available for public use via a series of 'stops,' like a cross between a taxi and a bus but in miniature. The whole system will be computer controlled and is expected to be popular with Japan's massive corporate population.

While current technology makes the ROPITS one step short of roadgoing, Hitachi plans to develop the system to apply to goods vehicles, joining the growing fleet of experimental, unmanned vehicles being furiously rolled out over the globe.

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