Inside IT
Meet the Foldable Cars

Everyone loves taking summer vacations but the journey to the mountains or a beach is not very pleasing, since the traffic jam starts to ruin the precious moments. Expensive parking fees and exhaust fumes also make vacations quite unpleasant even when you arrive at your destination.

Many scientists have worried about these problems for a long time, and they have finally come up with an answer, foldable cars.

Hiriko_1Hiriko is a subminiature foldable electric vehicle developed in 2003 by the Smart Cities Group lead by Prof. William J. Mitchell at MIT.


Hiriko means ‘urban’ in Basque, the language of the northern region of Spain. As you can assume from its name, it is a future-oriented car developed to solve traffic problems in central city areas.

Let’s take a little closer look at Hiriko. This car weighs less than 500kg with a length of 2.5m when unfolded, and 1.5m while folded. Considering that the length of a parking space is generally about 5m, each parking space can fit up to three Hirikos. This is a great way to deal with the parking issues in cities.


Hiriko is powered by a lithium-ion battery, which makes it more eco-friendly compared to other cars running on fossil fuels. It can be charged rapidly (in about 15 minutes) and can run for 120km with a maximum speed of 50km/h once charged. Its battery pack is located on the bottom of the car for a stable drive.

Hiriko has small motors on all four wheels, so they can all rotate sideways up to 120°. These wheels make changing directions in a small space much easier, and parking in a narrow alley is no longer a big challenge.


How can one get in and out of a Hiriko, then? Unlike regular cars (doors located on the sides), Hiriko’s door is the front window. It is a small vehicle with a maximum capacity of 2 people, but it uses the space effectively enough to have a trunk.


Recently, many countries have been showing interest in Hiriko for better urban policies. Seven cities including Berlin, Barcelona, San Francisco, and Hong Kong are currently interested in adopting Hiriko, and cities like Paris, London, Boston, Dubai, and Brussels have already started negotiations with developers. You will soon be seeing them on the streets of your city too.

Arma_2Do you know what an armadillo is? Armadillo is an animal living in the American continent which has a hard shell on the back. It survives in the wild by hiding under its shell (rolling its body under when threatened).

Armadillo-T was inspired by this creature and its unique feature, and the ‘T’ in the end stands for the Ford Model T, which was the world’s first vehicle for mass production to open the age of automobiles.


Armadillo-T is Korea’s first subminiature foldable electric car developed by the research group at KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology). Prof. Insoo Seo stated that the Armadillo-T was created in order to enhance the senior welfare of an aging society and for the use of eco-friendly energy as a new means of transportation in urban communities.

Armadillo-T’s appearance and specs look quite similar to those of Hiriko. It weighs 500kg and its length is about 2.8m long while driving and 1.65m when parked. An average parking space can also hold three Armadillo-Ts, just like Hiriko. It can run at a speed of 60km/h and even up to 100km, using the 13.6kWh battery which can be charged in only ten minutes.

Its motors are also fitted in the wheels just like Hiriko, and these in-wheel motors are designed to allow as much space as possible in the car to be utilized for passenger and driver convenience. All four wheels are controlled independently for better and more stable performance, and even a 360° turn is possible when the vehicle is folded.


How do we get into the Armadillo-T, then? Unlike Hiriko with its front window as the door, Armadillo-T has vertical doors on its sides, which is a more familiar location to us. When you gently lift the door, it creates a space so you can get into the car. This vehicle also holds up to 2 people.


Armadillo-T is full of original Korean technologies. It minimizes blind spots by using a compact camera instead of rear view mirrors on the sides. The dashboard is connected to a high-tech computer as well, so that information from each device can be transferred and displayed onto the monitor.

Once parked, you can simply use the remote control function on a special smartphone app to fold the car. The app will even allow you to move the car and switch into driving mode when it is needed.

KAIST research group has gotten 13 patents in Korea during this Armadillo-T project. They also won the second place in a competitive design exhibition hosted by the International Electronic Machines and Automobile Association under the International Electrical & Electronics Engineers.

Limits_3We have just taken a look at a couple of subminiature foldable automobiles. They are covered in cutting-edge technologies, but they tend to be vulnerable to accidents because of their light weight and compact size. For this reason, Europe has established regulations for subminiature cars including fuel efficiency and safety. These issues don’t get a lot of public attention in Korea, though. This is why it is expected to take a while until we see foldable cars on Korean roads.

Current foldable cars are electric vehicles with chargeable batteries, and Korea does not have an infrastructure for electric cars yet. Because electric cars can run only limited distances, and charging stations need to be placed at certain spots to keep them from stopping in the middle of nowhere.

The short charging time of 15-20 minutes is only when they are charged at designated stations in rapid charging mode. The slower charging mode, using a common 220V outlet can take over a couple of hours to charge. This is quite long compared to how much time it takes to put gas in a car, which usually takes only about 5 minutes total. The charging time may cause inconvenience to its users.

Foldable cars, nonetheless, can provide us a chance to live more pleasant and eco-friendly lives once we learn how to utilize them. What would it be like to drive around the city in one of these subminiature foldable cars?

Written by Taerim Choi, University student reporter of LG CNS

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