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Hitachi's ROPITS is the self-driving go-kart of the future

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hitachi ropits (nikkan kogyo shimbun)
hitachi ropits (nikkan kogyo shimbun)

Sick of walking around the parking lot to find your tiny single-person car, only to have to manually drive it to your destination like a slob? Hitachi has a self-driving solution, and for some reason, it decided to name it ROPITS. The company announced the research project in Japan this week, and while it’s still in development, it's already capable of driving itself to within a yard of some arbitrary point on a map. Just tell ROPITS ("Robot for Personal Intelligent Transport System") where you want it to go by tapping your destination on a smartphone or tablet, and the connected conveyance will do the rest.

The vehicle was designed with elderly and disabled drivers in mind, but Hitachi says it plans to work on other services like shipping goods using the same technology. In order to get it working, the company used digital map data from Japan’s Geographical Survey Institute and Real Time Kinematic GPS to produce highly accurate altitude information information, combining it with data from the ROPITS’s onboard sensors to build a three-dimensional map. Differential GPS and laser range finders in the vehicle’s roof give estimates of its current location, and the stereo cameras and 3D laser range finder in the front of the vehicle let it detect things like obstacles, bumps, potholes, and pedestrians, adjusting speed or moving out the way when it’s appropriate. Active suspension and dynamically-adjusting wheel height keep the top-heavy machine from tipping over.

With a top speed of less than four miles per hour, ROPITS won’t be setting the streets (or sidewalks) on fire, nor will it be competing with self-driving car projects from the likes of Google and Nissan. But if you need some help getting to the grocery store and back in a few more years, it could be the ticket. If you want to see more, Hitachi will be showing off its project at Japan’s Robotics and Mechatronics Conference in May.