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The Elevate can climb steps, lift itself above water and even launch itself over gaps
February 8, 2024
Conventional autonomous vehicles aren't the only solution for individuals with disabilities or those encountering transportation obstacles.
South Korean automaker Hyundai is working on a radical autonomous “walking car” – hailed as an Ultimate Mobility Vehicle (UMV) – that uses multi-joint legs as well as wheels to make progress.
These are apparently inspired by the legs of a grasshopper and give the walking car – or Elevate as it is formally known – the ability to climb steps, lift itself above water or even launch itself over gaps.
Given such exceptional maneuverability, it’s not hard to see how it could radically overhaul our approach to transportation and create opportunities that were previously unheard of.
Elevate was developed in tandem with Michigan-based industrial company Sundberg Ferar and first came to the public’s attention in 2019 when a prototype appeared at CES in Las Vegas.
Although progress reports and updates have been sporadic since then, work is continuing behind the scenes, with key members of the development team understood to be creating scale models and testing different technologies from their base in Fremont, California.
Confirmation that the idea is still very much in the Hyundai Motor Group’s plans came last year when it obtained patents via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for walking vehicles in the United States.
The patents – filed in the name of the Hyundai brand and its sister brand, Kia – protect the technologies showcased in Elevate, and suggest the Group has the aim of making the amazing four-legged cars a production reality.
It certainly made a convincing case for potential usage when the Elevate was first introduced.
“When a tsunami or earthquake hits, current rescue vehicles can only deliver first responders to the edge of the debris field,” said John Suh, Hyundai vice president and the man leading the project. “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.”
And he added: “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.”
The tech behind the extraordinary functionality incorporates a modular EV platform, robotic leg architecture with five degrees of freedom and wheel hub propulsion motors. The legs can be folded away when the Elevate is in drive mode.
All this endows Elevate with the capability of driving at highway speeds, climbing a 5-foot wall, stepping over a 5-foot gap and negotiating rough terrain while keeping its body and occupants level.
So can we really expect to see an Elevate UMV or similar on our streets in the near future? Hyundai has not publicly gone on the record with any timeframe, but the fact that work is still ongoing six years after it was first unveiled suggests it remains serious about the prospect.
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