By on January 8, 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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17 Comments on “Let Mobility Die: Hyundai Showcases Dumb, Spider-legged Thing for CES 2019...”


  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    The Ewoks know how to deal with stuff like that.

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    I don’t think it’s a bad idea. I’ve been sketching a similar idea for 20 years; a vehicle that can basically transform from low slung highway cruiser with long wheel base, to sports car, to tall and skinny city commuter, to off road and all weather mode, all made possible by using an independent electric motor at each wheel. My version could also tuck them up inside the body for amphibious mode. Anyway given Hyundia’s Construction Equipment experience I think they can pull it off.

  • avatar
    scott25

    This is feasible, yet everyone scoffs at the idea of an EV that generates its own electricity with solar panels. Sigh. The mind boggles at all the places that money could have been spent. Genesis still doesn’t have a crossover.

    • 0 avatar
      nels0300

      Maybe this is the Genesis crossover? Hmmm…

    • 0 avatar
      Lynchenstein

      Once (if) solar panels achieve high enough efficiency to be useful for charging the car they’re placed on in a reasonable period of time, then it’ll be feasible. I think it would be great to have solar panels on cars though so I won’t have to fight for a charger spot at the mall. With the Hyundai spider car, maybe I’d just walk over the Leafs hogging the spots and steal the charger cable for an hour.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        It’s not a matter of efficiency. There is not enough solar energy that falls on a car to charge it to any useful level.

        If you have adequate range in you BEV, you don’t generally need to charge during the day, you can get more than enough electricity overnight at home,

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      First, this is in no way feasible currently. Second, a solar panel roof barely has enough energy to run the blower motor to ventilate the cabin. Who knows what breakthroughs will be made in the future.

    • 0 avatar
      NeilM

      “yet everyone scoffs at the idea of an EV that generates its own electricity with solar panels.”

      They scoff because they’ve done the math.

      On a good day solar radiation has a max input rate of about 1000 watts per square meter. If you figure a conveniently dimensioned 2m wide by 5m long car for 10 m2, that’s 10 kW. But solar cell conversion efficiency is only 15-20%, so that’s at most 2 kW, and due to windows etc. you can’t actually cover all the upper surface of a car with solar cells, so figure more like 1.5 kW. That’s the equivalent of about 2 hp. Now factor in solar declination angle, vehicle orientation, cloudy and rainy days, dust, dirt and bird splatter how much do you figure is left? Maybe 1 hp worth? Not even? And that’s for daylight hours only.

      Sure, the duty cycle for an average car is pretty low, so much of the net solar-derived energy can be stored and used at a much higher rate when the car is actually moving, but something times damn near nothing is still damn near nothing. And if you could magically increase the energy conversion efficiency to 50% it would still only be not damn much.

      I’m all in favor of solar panels where they make sense. Mounted on cars they don’t.

  • avatar
    jatz

    Why not? Honda has been toying with the ASIMO project for almost 20 years now.

  • avatar
    trackratmk1

    I’m imagining the harmless helpful robot absolutely leg crushing the stone pillars of my million dollar brownstone’s ten step entryway so I can roll straight out in my wheelchair.

  • avatar
    RHD

    Something similar will likely have military applications first, then get slowly assimilated into civilian use. The first stage has probably been surreptitiously tried numerous times already, by multiple countries.
    One engineering challenge would be how to contend with the varying surfaces that the contact points would have to deal with. It could be rough, broken concrete, hot, stick asphalt, dry, blowing sand, snow and ice, or gooey, mucky mud. Figuring out how to climb stairs would not be nearly as difficult as traversing a swamp or a glacier field.

  • avatar
    craiger

    We’ve all seen the videos of the experimental robot pack mules. This is just a larger version of that. The technology is available. I could see the Army looking at it for mobility across rough terrain.

    That being said, the vehicle would probably burn so much fuel that it couldn’t travel far enough to be feasible.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy67

      It’ll be a BEV. And have a range of 0.5 miles.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      “It’ll be a BEV. And have a range of 0.5 miles.”

      In fairness, it’s not going to use all that much power, really. The ‘leg’ axes would be heavily geared and not be at full power most of the time; slowly lifting weight doesn’t actually take a ton of juice. If you wanted this thing to go 50mph over broken terrain it would be massive amounts of power; 5mph and it could probably run for hours and hours – so for the stated use case it’s probably fine.

      Nothing you actually designed to do this job would *look* anything like this, but power usage probably isn’t the dealbreaker.

  • avatar
    jfk-usaf

    You could have just left it at “Let Mobility Die”… this thing brought to you by the company that wants to build a new luxury brand and just released a couple of nice new high end cars ….. to a market focused (scratch focused) dominated by SUV/CUVs … “Go Go Gadget A** Hat!”

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