Let Mobility Die: Hyundai Showcases Dumb, Spider-legged Thing for CES 2019

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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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  • Craiger Craiger on Jan 08, 2019

    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.

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    • PeriSoft PeriSoft on Jan 09, 2019

      "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.

  • Jfk-usaf Jfk-usaf on Jan 09, 2019

    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!"

  • Jeff S I am not a fan of Tesla and they were niche vehicles but it seems that they have become more common. I doubt if I get an EV that it would be a Tesla. The electrical grid will have to be expanded because people over the long run are not going to accept the excuse of the grid can't handle people charging their EVs.
  • AMcA The '70 Continentals and Town Cars may have been cousins to the standard body Fords and Mercurys, they didn't have to be disguised, because they had unique, unbelievably huge bodies of their own. Looking at the new 1970 interior, I'd say it was also a cost savings in sewing the seat. Button tufted panels like the 1969 interior had require a lot of sewing and tufting work. The 1970 interior is mostly surface sewing on a single sheet of upholstery instead of laboriously assembled smaller pieces. FINALLY: do I remember correctly that the shag carpet shown under these cars was a Photoshop? They didn't really go so peak '70s as to photograph cars on shag carpets, did they?
  • Inside Looking Out Toyota makes mass market cars. Their statement means that EVs are not mass market yet. But then Tesla managed to make mass market car - Mode; 3. Where I live in CA there are more Tesla Model 3s on streets than Corollas.
  • Ltcmgm78 A lot of dirt must turn before there's an EV in every driveway. There must be a national infrastructure plan written by other than politicians chasing votes. There must be reliable batteries that hopefully aren't sourced from strategic rivals. There must be a way to charge a lot of EVs. Toyota is wisely holding their water. There is a danger in urging unplanned and hasty moves away from ICE vehicles. Do we want to listen to unending speeches every election cycle that we are closer than we have ever been to 100% electrification and that voting for certain folks will make it happen faster? Picture every car in your town suddenly becoming all electric and a third of them need a charge or the driver will be late for work. This will take a lot of time and money.
  • Kendahl One thing I've learned is that cars I buy for local errands tend to be taken on 1,000 mile trips, too. We have a 5-speed Focus SE that has gone on longer trips than I ever expected. It has served us well although, if I had it to do over again, I would have bought an ST. At the time of purchase, we didn't plan to move from 1,000 feet elevation to 6,500. The SE is still adequate but the ST's turbo and extra power would have been welcome.
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