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World's smallest robotic car

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Jeremy Clarkson's now-famous stunt of driving a mini-car into the BBC's office has been trumped with the introduction of a Japanese one-person robot...

Jeremy Clarkson's now-famous stunt of driving a mini-car into the BBC's office has been trumped with the introduction of a Japanese one-person robot city car designed to be called by a smartphone. The UK's Daily Mail says a Japanese company has produced a robotic car described as the world's smallest - and Clarkson squeezed his not inconsiderable bulk into it for a drive in Hitachi's Robot for Personal Intelligent Transport System - Ropits, for short. The tiny car, the Mail reports, can automatically take passengers from A to B without them having to do a thing - just get in and sit. The one-person robot can collect and drop off a passenger autonomously - though the passenger can take over with a control joystick should things go awry.A Hitachi officially unveiled the new mobility robot in Tsukuba in Ibaraki prefecture, Japan, on Tuesday, March 12. The Ropits was originally developed to help people with walking problems - apparently common among Japan's ageing society - get mobile on the roads and in pedestrian areas. Clarkson unveiled the P45, designed by the presenter himself, in February on the first of Top Gear's most recent series. Clarkson tested the four-wheeler in Guildford, southern England, at speeds as high as 50km/h, weaving through traffic though, the Mail reports, looking uncomfortable in the cars tiny cabin. "I'm staggered that Ford, GM, Toyota, any of the automotive giants, haven't thought to make a car like this." The Japanese robot has GPS to find its way, laser distance sensors to avoid obstacles and a gyro sensor to stay upright over uneven surfaces - even kerbs. The passenger need only specify a destination on a touch-screen map and the machine will head for it; anybody who needs a ride can summon it from any number of points around a city. Hitachi which demonstrated Ropits in the Japanese city of Tsukuba says it's aimed at the elderly and those who have difficulty walking. It's also easy to imagine it taking off as a next-generation Segway for the urban crowd, though there's no word yet on when you might be dodging the 450-pound device on a sidewalk near you. Hitachi says additional trials of Ropits will be held in Tsukuba (considered a high-tech "science city") to improve the device's ability to serve as an autonomous transporter of people and goods. The company plans to further detail the technology at the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers Conference on Robotics and Mechatronics in May. Powered by a lithium ion battery, the little vehicle can travel at speeds of 3.7 mph and reportedly reach its destination with error margins of up to 3 feet.
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