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Is This the World’s Tiniest Car?

This super tiny car, designed only for cities, could help fill the holes in public transportation at city edges.

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Did you think SmartCars were small? Check out Hiriko – one of the world’s smallest cars. No, really, it’s tiny. Hiriko folds up to just 60 inches. It’s basically just a glorified scooter with a roof. And that’s what it’s meant to be. While the muscle car lover in you might be wondering why you might ever need something so small and slow, Hiriko addresses some key transportation issues facing big cities. As Pacific standard notes:

Drivers use them like shared bikes, picking up a car at a Hiriko depot near where they’re coming from, and dropping it at one near their destination. Thus they address the “last mile” problem of mass transit and “might be most useful at the edges of cities where the transit network is sparse,” explains architect Kent Larson, director of the MIT research group. “In an inner city where it’s very walkable to begin with and then you have good trams or subways or buses, you don’t need the vehicles so much. But at the edges you have a desperate need for additional mobility.”

You won’t be taking this bad boy on a road trip. Hiriko isn’t made for anything but cities. It can only go 31 mph and is powered by lithium-ion batteries. Which means it can only really drive 70 miles per charge. It doesn’t even really work like a car you’re used to. There are no mechanical links between the accelerator, breaks and steering. Instead there are wires that transmit information electronically from the driver to her car.

But what you’re getting, say the developers, is a cheap (the cars will be priced at about $16,000), efficient little car for errands and short city trips. Think Zipcar, but smaller.

Tiny cars aren’t new of course. Remember the UK Peel P50 from 1962? They recently revived the little guy, manufacturing fifty new units of the bugger. Retrothing explains some downsides, though:

Before you run over to northern England with your checkbook, don’t forget that there’s no reverse gear – making conventional parking difficult. That’s okay, just pick the car up by its rear handle and wheel it into place.

The Peel P50. Image: Philip Kromer

But, despite its diminutive size, Hiriko isn’t actually the world’s smallest car. British Inventor Perry Watkins released the “Wind Up” car a few years ago that beats Hiriko by a long shot. Wind Up is 41 inches high, 51 inches long and 26 inches wide – about the size of a washing machine. It can even go faster than Hiriko, with a top speed of 37 miles per hour.

Sadly, Hiriko won’t be zipping by your apartment any time too soon. People are skeptical and laws get in the way of allowing the tiny car on the roads. Pacific Standard explains:

But alas, there are legal challenges to resolve. “Currently the law does not allow you to have by-wire steering without mechanical backup,” says Ryan Chin, a Ph.D. candidate who serves as project manager for the car’s development. Also, “a lot of cities have a class of vehicle called the neighborhood electric vehicle which can operate at lower speeds, and not on the highway,” Chin explains. Typically, these are golf carts. “The U.S. and other countries need to create a new vehicle class which is neither NEV nor passenger vehicle but in between.”

Until then, you’ll have to resort to your regular sized car.

 

More at Smithsonian.com

Will High Gas Prices Jolt Electric Cars?

A Preview of CES: When Cars Become Smartphones

 

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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