How would you like a public transportation system where you summon the bus, it picks you up, then drops you off anywhere on its route that’s not just at the next stop? How about a similar system in airports, where you hop in the shuttle which then actually parks in front of your terminal entrance instead of the stop nearest to it? Japanese conglomerate Hitachi may have such a convenience in mind with its ROPITS prototype.

ROPITS is, according to the company, a “mobility support robot,” or autonomous, self-driving vehicle like General Motors’ EN-V. Designed for a single passenger, ROPITS is being developed to drive itself to locations, pick up its lone rider, then drop them off at his or her destination. Note the drop-off point can be a pre-determined spot recorded in the vehicle’s memory, or any place between as selected by the passenger.

Image via Hitachi

Here’s how ROPITS works. The passenger summons the autonomous vehicle to pick them up via a portable terminal and reservation screen. He or she then enters the desired destination into the system. ROPITS, using GPS and highly detailed maps, finds its passenger and picks them up. Using that same system, the autonomous car weaves its way to its destination.

Note Hitachi envisions ROPITS not just navigating streets, but also sidewalks and even the different floors within a building. The vehicle uses its camera lasers to create a three-dimensional “view” of its surroundings from the streets and building to uneven pavement as it transitions from street to sidewalk. Cameras prevent ROPITS from hitting obstacles like other vehicles and pedestrians. Hitachi has mapped out 11 miles footpaths, trails, and pathways in in Japan’s Tsukuba Special District where it plans to test ROPITS.

Hitachi has said little about ROPITS’ powerplant though most likely it’ll be an electric motor. The company says it is developing the self-driving vehicle for the elderly and those with mobility issues. Details on ROPIT and its technology, including working demo models, will be shown at the 2013 Robotics and Mechatronics Conference in Japan in May.

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