Let Mobility Die: Hyundai Showcases Dumb, Spider-legged Thing for CES 2019
Hyundai kicked off the New Year by teasing a concept vehicle it claims can tackle just about any terrain in a manner befitting Inspector Gadget. That’s because it’s time for the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which is the premiere event for showcasing half-baked and incomplete technological marvels in a desperate effort to titillate investors and tech fetishists.
For Hyundai, that meant rolling out computer-generated images of Project Elevate and its Ultimate Mobility Vehicle (UMV) after a few days of gentle teasing. Normally, I wouldn’t touch a topic like this if I wasn’t planning on making fun of it — which is what I intend to do here. But before getting too deep into the ridicule, there’s an important takeaway to be made: This lack of vision might herald the final days of mobility-based marketing.
Stay with me here. Roughly a decade ago, everyone and their mother became obsessed with tech and automakers began talking endlessly about autonomous cars while parading tiny, single-occupant vehicles to dazzle people in their absence. Hyundai released an unintentionally hysterical mobility pod, called the E4U, at the 2013 Seoul Motor Show. It also dabbled in automotive flight and drone technology, but knew enough to tap both as part of its April Fool’s Day goof for 2017.
Project Elevate is being treated much more seriously, though. Hyundai Motor Group, which has done an exceptional job improving its automotive product over the last fifteen years, clearly needed to deliver something to this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. Presumably, Hyundai’s CES marketing team understood that flying cars have been done to death over the last couple of years and knew they needed to take a different approach. Several episodes of Wacky Races later, they had their idea — a car with an extendible suspension that can drive over any obstacle. True brilliance.
Frankly, we’re shocked Hyundai didn’t just run with putting up fake exit signs and matte paintings of the horizon, as it’s slightly more realistic than Project Elevate. Still, the UMV isn’t for winning illegal derbies. It’s supposed to be a search-and-rescue vehicle capable of handling any terrain — sort of like a helicopter, but worse.
“When a tsunami or earthquake hits, current rescue vehicles can only deliver first responders to the edge of the debris field. They have to go the rest of the way by foot. Elevate can drive to the scene and climb right over flood debris or crumbled concrete,” explained John Suh, VP and founding director of Hyundai’s CRADLE. “This technology goes well beyond emergency situations — people living with disabilities worldwide that don’t have access to an ADA ramp could hail an autonomous Hyundai Elevate that could walk up to their front door, level itself, and allow their wheelchair to roll right in — the possibilities are limitless.”
Supposedly, the UMV can tackle walls up to 5 feet in height and traverse gaps of a similar length to reach troubled areas. Once it’s there, the legs adopt a movement style (animal or reptilian) that’s best suited for the terrain. After securing its payload and exfiltrating the area, the vehicle then hunkers down for some energy efficient street cruising.
Based on a proprietary modular EV platform, which can be customized in a similar manner as General Motors’ Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure (SURUS) platform, Hyundai’s UMV uses wheel hub propulsion motors and a purely electric powertrain. It’s also completely hypothetical. Despite claiming it’s worked on this project for several years, everything the automaker showed is conceptual. It’s almost like they ran out of ideas for the now obligatory mobility angle that’s omnipresent at CES and had to check the waste basket at CRADLE (Hyundai’s Center for Robotic-Augmented Design in Living Experiences).
So long as automakers keep rolling out harebrained schemes, we’re going to continue rolling our eyes. Of course, we seem to be one of the few outlets that’s willing to anymore, as much of the media seems to think it’s a great idea. And it was a great idea when NASA incorporated it into the pint-sized Mars rover and George Lucas needed something to threaten rebel bases. But you’re living in a fantasyland if you think Hyundai will turn Project Elevate into a full-scale, commercial product. Hyundai doesn’t feel like the right company for the job and the logistics would be nearly insurmountable even with some hearty government funding.
Mobility projects are always worth exploring, but they aren’t always worth advertising. Obviously, Hyundai has no serious intention of bringing this idea to fruition. It’s just another mobility concept from an automaker that’s playing pretend at the Consumer Electronics Show, and it’s my deepest hope that I’m not the only person who sees this (and believes the industry is finally running out of dumb mobility ideas).
[Images: Hyundai Motor Company]
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