Panasonic unveils mini electric fire engine for narrow alleys and backstreets

Panasonic makes some tremendous stuff, from gorgeous TVs with immaculate picture quality to rugged laptops, to truly outstanding cameras. 

As anyone who saw the live stream of the company’s press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this year would know, there was much to admire – even before you got to the hardware.

The Team Panasonic initiative involving Olympic stars, and including Michael Phelps live on stage, was certainly eye-catching. As was the apparent stage invasion by Star Wars rebels and Empire Stormtroopers, with BB-8 rolling onstage at the climax. They were there to restore order to the universe, oh, and promote Panasonic’s involvement in Disney’s Star Wars theme park experiences.

But the cutest reveal came towards the end. Panasonic has long been involved in making rechargeable batteries: Batteries for cameras, smartphones, shavers, toothbrushes and so on. But also for bigger projects, like components of smart cities or smart highways. 

Anyway, that mysterious black drape to the left of the screen in some livestream shots was not hiding a huge TV, but a tiny fire engine. It’s built in conjunction with Tropos Motors and is called the Tropos FRV Fire Truck. FRV stands for Fire Research Vehicle.

When I say tiny, it’s big enough to hold people, it’s not a toy or anything. But the truck is a tiddler next to conventional fire engines. Which is one of its great benefits. 

When a fire breaks out in a super-narrow backstreet in Mumbai or Tokyo, the truck can get in there. At 6 ft 6 ins tall, it can get into many parking structures and at 4 ft 6ins wide, it’s perfect for tight spaces. 

Journalist David Phelan tries out the miniature fire engine (The Independent)

Panasonic’s involvement is more than just the rechargeable battery: a Panasonic Toughbook tablet is on board, right next to the driver’s elbow, relaying emergency information.

Advanced analytics ensure the driver knows how the battery health is doing and help protect against theft or tampering.

The vehicle is powered by battery and has a range of up to 120 miles, and a maximum speed of a little over 40 miles an hour. The 125-gallon water tank dispenses its contents with a gas-powered water pump.

There’s another benefit. Where a full-size fire truck can cost up to $500,000 (£384,000), this is a tenth of that, Tropos Motors says. At $50,000, that’s quite the bargain.

All of which goes to prove not only that you can’t predict what’s coming out of CES from year to year. And that Panasonic’s commitment to less polluted, more advanced cities is a real one. 

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