One of the most futuristic vehicles at the 2011 Challenge Bibendum was, basically, a kind of elevator.
The VIPA (a French acronym that stands for Autonomous Individual Passenger Vehicle) from Ligier is a self-driving electric box that is being designed for use any place where people need to go from point A to point B and back again. Think of it as a sort of temporary train for when you don't want to lay down any track or hire any conductors; places and events like festivals, parks or airports. The first time the VIPA is used in a new area, a person needs to drive it along the route that the car will be expected to take using a joystick and keyboard that plug into the vehicle as needed. Once the route has been memorized by the system and landmarks noted, no one needs to be on board for the big cube to get around. VIPA uses a network of electronic eyes to get around: two top-mounted cameras (one on the front, one in the back) to look for landmarks and laser sensors in the front that scan for people or other moving objects that may get in the way. If needed, the VIPA can be stopped and restarted manually from inside the cabin.
With a computer-controlled driver and a top speed of 20 kilometers per hour (average speed it more like 10), efficiency is easy for the VIVA. In fact, the car can run for eight hours (around 80 km) on just 8.5 kWh of energy in the full battery pack. The pack is made up of four lead acid gel batteries that can be charged in four hours from a standard European outlet or in 45 minutes using the on-board DC fast charger.
The VIPA is very clearly still a prototype, though. The suspension is rough, almost nonexistent. Ligier says the operating temperature range is between -4 degrees and 160 Fahrenheit, but, even though we rode in one on a 70-degree day with the doors wide open, the car was hot. Not a surprise since this is basically a big greenhouse on wheels. If Ligier adds some sort of heating and cooling system – and it should – then the 8.5 kWh might not be enough for an eight-hour shift. It seems like there is room to put in a bigger pack or to go to a more efficient battery chemistry, but then we can get into the same problem that other futuristic vehicles face: cost.
The VIPA, which honestly looks from every angle like you're photographing it wrong but is still a cool idea, got its world premiere here in Berlin. Ligier's other vehicles include the M.Go Electric and the Be Sun Proline. You can learn more about them direct from the company.