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MIT’s folding car could revolutionize city driving, but it’ll take some getting used to

MIT Folding City Car HirikoIf you live and drive in any modern city, especially one which isn’t well served by multi-storey car parks or clearly marked road-side parking bays, you’ll no doubt be an expert at the parallel parking maneuver. It’s a tricky skill, and one which many drivers still haven’t mastered, but it’s the most effective way of squeezing a car into a tight space.

If you’re one of those who still needs several attempts to reverse into a parking spot, then help could be at hand thanks to a team at MIT Media Lab, who’ve been hard at work coming up with a new city car that could do away with the need to perform the maneuver at all.

The car is the MIT CityCar, also known as the Hiriko, and while it has been a concept for several years, a production model was unveiled in Brussels this week, all ready for its debut in Spain next year.

The tiny car is completely different to anything else on the road, even if it does share a similar look to vehicles like the Smart ForTwo and the General Motors EN-V. Instead of using a single electric engine, the Hiriko uses four, and each is incorporated into a wheel along with the steering and suspension.

This allows an amazing degree of control, including what MIT describes as an “O-turn”, or spinning on its axis, plus the ability to move sideways like a crab – thus never needing to parallel park again.

It doesn’t end there either, as when you’ve parked the car folds in on itself to become even smaller, and as you enter and exit through the front windscreen/door, cars can be parked side-by-side as close together as possible. MIT say three or four Hiriko’s can fit in a standard-size parking bay.

Now, as clever as this may be, it’s an entirely new way of driving a car and although the learning curve may not be as steep as traditional methods, spinning around on the spot and moving sideways will still need quite a lot of practice to get right.

As a two-seater, it’s no more or less practical than a ForTwo, although the electric motors, with their 60-mile range, are designed for very short journeys around a city and nothing more. There’s also the added benefit of a selectable left-or-right hand drive steering column to minimize production costs too.

As innovative as the car is, the plan for its test launch is perhaps even more so. In 2013, twenty Hirikos will be made available in Vitoria Gasteiz, just outside Bilbao in Spain, where they will be shared by a group of people who’ll have access for a few hours at a time. Boston and Malmo will also get a Hiriko trial and other cities, including San Francisco, Berlin and Hong Kong have expressed interest in running a similar scheme.

You can see the launch video and an early concept video below.