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Hitachi's Ropits mobility robot drives itself

The Robot for Personal Intelligent Transport System is a single-person autonomous vehicle meant to travel on sidewalks. Just punch in your destination and it takes you there.

Hitachi demonstrated Ropits in the city of Tsukuba today and plans more tests there soon.
Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

Hitachi today unveiled a robot vehicle that can pick up and drop off passengers autonomously. Take that, all you old-fashioned driver-dependent personal mobility devices.

The tiny, single-seat Ropits (Robot for Personal Intelligent Transport System) is meant to travel on sidewalks, or even be used indoors for getting in and out of elevators.

Hitachi's new Ropits mobility robot: Driver, what driver? Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

It's equipped with GPS to find its way and relies on cameras and 2D and 3D laser distance sensors to avoid obstacles (sometimes also known as pedestrians) and slow down in narrow spaces. Gyro sensors help it stay upright on uneven surfaces.

Passengers climb into Ropits through a front hatch and specify their destination via a touch-screen tablet interface. Ropits takes it from there. In case of emergencies, riders can control the vehicle with a joystick located in the cockpit.

Hitachi demonstrated Ropits in the Japanese city of Tsukuba and 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. Why am I suddenly imagining people sitting on porches in Japan yelling, "Hey, Ropits, get off my lawn"?