Hyundai gets serious about unstoppable, four-legged 4×4 robo-cars
When Hyundai debuted (rendered, really) its sci-fi-grade Elevate walking all-terrain vehicle concept at CES 2019, we assumed its design team just threw an all-time-great New Year’s Eve bash and let the party favors do the designing. Okay, maybe it was a holiday party. Turns out, Hyundai was actually pretty serious. This week, it announced that it has formed a new studio to work on “ultimate mobility vehicles” (UMVs), including the Elevate. Soon, all-terrain vehicle could have a broader meaning, encompassing hole hops, wall climbs and boulder scrambles.
New Horizons Studio will bring together Hyundai’s expertise in vehicles, robotics and intelligent mobility in order to push the boundaries of vehicular engineering to “reimagine how vehicles might traverse the world.” And that world definitely isn’t limited to mere road, track and level trail, but also applies to “unconventional and off-road terrain, including places where vehicles have never roamed before.”
Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?
Adding to the intrigue is the fact that Hyundai calls the Elevate concept the first UMV on which New Horizons will work. As imagined during initial concept phase, the Elevate has four electric-driven wheels attached to robotic legs. It can travel as a pod-like electric car, but its real magic happens when terrain becomes impassable … or so it seems. The Elevate extends its legs to walk, climb and stretch over obstacles. The legs have five degrees of motion, including wheels that rotate 360 degrees in relation to the “ankle” for precise micro-movement. Hyundai said the Elevate could climb up to 5 feet (1.5 m) of vertical wall and step over 5-foot gaps.
As much as we can imagine armored versions of these things fighting it out on future battlefields, the use case Hyundai most likes to talk about is emergency rescue and disaster relief. When forces beyond anyone’s control render an urban or natural zone an impassable pile of concrete rubble or fallen trees, the Elevate would be able to leave traditional vehicles behind and climb over debris, carrying out critical, response-time-slashing operations.
Hyundai also envisions the Elevate as a literal door-to-door transporter for sick or disabled individuals lacking a wheelchair ramp. And with modular bodies, a single robotic chassis could serve many different functions.
The Silicon-Valley-heavy New Horizons Studio team will be headed by Dr. John Suh, who previously served as founding director of Hyundai Ventures and Hyundai CRADLE (Center for Robotic-Augmented Design in Living Experiences). The latter developed the Elevate concept in partnership with design and innovation firm Sundberg-Ferar.
“We aim to create the world’s first transformer-class vehicle, also known as the Ultimate Mobility Vehicle,” says Dr. Suh.
So yeah, Hyundai is working on actual transformers now. And all early indications suggest they will, in fact, be more than meets the eye. Get a taste in the 2019 Elevate video below.
Dr. Hans C. Mumm