Toyota, Honda, and General Motors have been toying with the concept of eco-friendly single-seater urban vehicles over the past few years, and Hitachi has taken notice. Although it may look like a miniature car, Hitachi's ROPITS is more like a robotic wheelchair designed to assist people with difficulty walking (i.e. Japan's growing elderly population). The key difference is that – unlike the concept vehicles demonstrated by the auto makers – ROPITS drives itself.

The company says ROPTIS, which stands for Robot for Personal Intelligent Transport System, would pick up a single passenger at designated stations all on its own. Entering your destination is as simple as tapping on a map displayed by an onboard tablet PC or your own mobile device. And because it only travels on sidewalks with a maximum speed of 3.7 mph (5.9 km/h), it won't have to deal with many of the safety issues associated with self-driving road vehicles.

The navigation system combines Real Time Kinematic GPS (RTK-GPS) with a stereo camera rig and multiple laser range finders to provide accuracy to within one meter (3 feet). The sensors provide a 360-degree three-dimensional image of the vehicle's surroundings, giving it the capability to detect and react to oncoming pedestrians or unevenness in the ground surface.

Hitachi has already tested ROPITS in an 18 square-kilometer (6.9 sq mile) area of Tsukuba city, one of the first in Japan to give the green light to robotic vehicles testing just a few years ago.

The company says that besides transporting people, ROPITS could also be used as an autonomous delivery vehicle for a variety of services, and plans to continue developing the technology.

While it may be a while before such a system is actually rolled out, you can see the vehicle perform a press demonstration in a video released by the Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun.

Source: Hitachi (Japanese) via Robonable (Japanese)