Sam Judd

Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: Robots in disguise

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The foldable electric Hiriko. Photo / Robert Hextall via Wikimedia Commons
The foldable electric Hiriko. Photo / Robert Hextall via Wikimedia Commons

Every now and then when looking for alternatives that have a smaller impact on our world, you stumble across something in the clean-tech sector that really does boggle the mind.

Over in Spain, in an innovative attempt to thwart the overcrowding of European city streets, air pollution and carbon in the atmosphere, a group of geniuses have designed a relatively affordable electric car Hiriko that folds itself up so small that you can fit three of them in a normal parking space.

This thing completely redefines the concept of an automobile, with a fully electric power system and wheels that can point in any direction, allowing it to make a zero point turn, rather than a three point.

This video demonstrates some of the remarkable traits of the Hiriko:

Clip HIRIKO from HIRIKO Driving Mobility on Vimeo.


The level of innovation of this invention makes me feel better about our environmental problems - perhaps indicating that technology will come to the rescue for the sins that we have committed against our planet.

Of course little is known about the long-term environmental impact of the ultra-modern lithium-ion batteries, that (if produced on a large enough scale to make an impact replacing fossil fuels) would inevitably spill into the environment through car crashes or poor disposal.

The batteries also need recharging and if you are in a country that fires coal to generate electricity perhaps the large scale production of electric cars is not such a good idea. This is not an equation that I am qualified to solve, but if a safe way to contain the batteries can be devised (perhaps a hefty bond making users bring them back to well contained recycling centres or the like) and things keep going the way they are heading in New Zealand, with rapid urbanisation coupled with more renewable energy sources, then these real-life transformers could become a sustainable way of the future.

Of course you wouldn't take the Hiriko (which actually translates to 'City Car' in Basque) on a road trip from Cape to Bluff - they have a range of only 120km - so you are unlikely to find them lining up the sheds of rural New Zealand.

It is hard to see them becoming popular with today's testosterone-fuelled boy racers (who I detest), who flout their unnecessarily loud, high-tech turbo machines trying to impress girls - as they have an electronically controlled top speed of just 50 km/hour.

I also have to admit that you wouldn't see me trading in my trusty Nissan Safari just yet as the Hiriko will never cut the mustard towing a 6-metre trailer piled with rubbish sacks and dumped appliances.

But you might find these foldaway scooter-like vehicles darting around our cities, confusing the parking wardens and twirling around on a 360 point. I would certainly be a starter for one for those inner city trips when a car is necessary.

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