By Ben Schiller
The Ropits, or Robot for Personal Intelligent Transport System, is a single-seat buggy designed to improve the mobility of the elderly or infirm. Drivers control it from a tablet, specifying where they want to go, or where they want to be picked up.
Weighing 450 pounds, and narrow enough to go along sidewalks, it has a top speed of 3.7 miles per hour--walking pace. Hitachi has been working on Ropits since 2011, recently testing it on the streets of Tsukuba. It says it has a margin of error of about 3.3 feet (1 meter).
The mini-vehicle is powered by a lithium battery, and comes with GPS, camera, and laser sensors to stop it bumping into things (or people). In narrow areas, or close to pedestrians, it automatically slows down, or stops. The cab is front-loading, and low-down, for easier access.
Is it the future of the motorized wheelchair? Who knows. It's too early to say if and when we'll see one commercially, or at what cost (the company isn't saying). Robotics are bound to play a big part in elderly care, though. And, in the future, there are going to be a lot of elderly.
Copyright 2013 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.