Hyundai’s latest mobility effort sounds like it was inspired by Star Trek. It’s newly created New Horizons Studio has the task of developing a line-up of products capable of going “places where vehicles have never roamed before.”
The South Korean carmaker offered a hint of what it had in mind at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2019 when it introduced the Elevate Ultimate Mobility Vehicle.
With its articulated suspension and fold-out legs, the battery-powered concept vehicle could maneuver across boulder or rubble-strewn terrain to rescue injured skiers or those trapped following an earthquake or other natural disaster, Hyundai suggested at the time.
Now, the company actually wants to build vehicles like the Elevate, according to Hyundai Vice President John Suh, who heads the New Horizons Studio. “We aim to create the world’s first transformer-class vehicle, also known as the Ultimate Mobility Vehicle,” he explained.
Hyundai is clearly interested in expanding out of its traditional niche as a “value” vehicle manufacturer.
It has launched a new luxury division, Genesis. It’s pushing into the performance space with its N models. And it has aggressive plans for zero-emissions vehicles, both battery and hydrogen powered.
But the company wants to push even further out into the mobility space. At this year’s CES it revealed a flying cab concept, essentially an oversized drone, aimed at the new Uber Elevate service set to launch later this decade.
The New Horizons Studio, the automaker said in a news release, “furthers Hyundai Motor Group’s vision to shape the future of mobility and onboard forward-thinking, innovative leadership from Silicon Valley and other innovation hubs.”
What Hyundai has in mind has yet to be fully defined. It is offering several possible examples, starting with the Elevate concept revealed nearly two years ago. As TheDetroitBureau.com originally reported, the prototype’s articulated suspension is normally folded up and back when used on-road.
In other situations, however, the legs fold out to give the Elevate significantly more ground clearance.
It also appears possible that the jointed construction would allow it, indeed, to walk, not just roll, over rough terrain.
In its news release, Hyundai took things a step further, noting that, “The vehicle does not rely solely on wheels and is expected to address challenging driving situations – for example, a car with robotic legs could save lives as the first responder in natural disasters; or, people who do not have access to an ADA ramp could hail a car to walk up to their front door, level itself, and allow wheelchairs to roll right in.”
The choice of Dr. Suh to run the New Horizons Studio seems fitting. He has spent 35 years working in automotive engineering, as well as on alternative technologies for an unusual range of employers including Stanford University, the Palo Alto Research Center – which was formerly the groundbreaking Xerox PARC), General Motors and, since 2011, Hyundai.
For the Korean automaker he helped found the Hyundai Ventures incubator, as well as Hyundai CRADLE, its Center for Robotic-Augmented Design in Living Experiences.
Hyundai isn’t the only automaker looking to stretch beyond its basic transportation mandate. Toyota is exploring a variety of arenas, including robotics and air taxis. Honda, meanwhile, has also been venturing into non-automotive spaces including technology to assist factory workers, as well as the disabled.