The Hyundai TIGER X-1 could find itself equally at home picking its way through the Amazon jungle or along the rubble-strewn lunar surface.
The Korean automaker has been experimenting with what it calls “ultimate mobility vehicles,” last autumn setting up a new venture, dubbed New Horizons Studio, to create them. The TIGER – short for Transforming Intelligent Ground Excursion Robot Experiment – is the first to roll out of the studio, following up on an equally wild concept, the Elevate, that Hyundai debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2019.
“Vehicles like TIGER, and the technologies underpinning it, give us an opportunity to push our imaginations,” said John Suh, Ph.D, head of the New Horizons Studio. “We are constantly looking at ways to rethink vehicle design and development and redefine the future of transportation and mobility.”
Hyundai planning Flying cabs, walking cars, wearable robots
Hyundai is nothing if not ambitious, and the company is showing that off in a number of ways. It has announced an aggressive program to bring electrified vehicles to market while also announcing a new subsidiary, HTWO, that will focus on hydrogen fuel-cell technology. It is exploring robotic technology, including wearable exoskeletons, and has launched another unit to develop flying taxis, like the one it introduced at the 2020 CES.
Hyundai also is on a bit of an acquisition binge and ended last year by purchasing a controlling stake in Boston Dynamics for $1.1 billion. That company has received plenty of attention for its anamorphic robots that can walk, jump and even dance.
TIGER was under development before the acquisition, but it also operates autonomously, and it’s designed to operate in situations where conventional, wheeled vehicles would quickly bog down.
The TIGER walk
Though it also features four wheels, they’re mounted on articulating arms that can move more like legs to help TIGER “walk” over or around obstacles. All the while, the vehicle is designed to keep its back relatively level to protect any payload it might be carrying.
“A large load bay housed within its body means TIGER can carry goods for delivery, or be deployed to deliver aid packages in emergency situations,” Hyundai said in a statement introducing the concept vehicle.
In many ways, TIGER is similar to the original Hyundai Elevate concept. Both use a variety of sensors to keep track of the environment in which they are operating, including stereo vision, ultrasonic sensors and ground-penetrating radar. But, where Elevate was closer in size to the “walkers” used in Star Wars movies, the 26-pound TIGER is more like a roving sled or palette, when folded up measuring just 16 by 31 inches.
Fly me to the moon…or drop TIGER off in the nearest jungle
It’s relatively diminutive size means it could be carried out to an emergency site and then set loose on surfaces too rough for a conventional vehicle, flown out to a work site by helicopter or, perhaps, one of the flying taxis Hyundai is developing, or even loaded onto a spacecraft for deployment on the moon or some other alien surface.
“TIGER is a modular platform design allowing different bodies to be attached to the chassis for unique applications such as cargo delivery or surveillance in locations not suitable for humans,” said David Byron, Manager of Design and Innovation Strategy at Sundberg-Ferar, an industrial design consultancy. The goal was to come up with “a robot that maximized the efficiency of wheeled motion with the articulation of a quadruped to expand the possibility of reaching more remote locations.”
Another intriguing aspect of the project is that it was developed virtually, using Autodesk software. The approach allowed the project team to produce much of the TIGER vehicle using additive manufacturing, essentially building it, one pixel at a time, out of epoxy-style liquids and powdered metals.
For now, TIGER is just a prototype but real-world testing is likely to help New Horizon Studios bring similar concepts to production in the years ahead, according to Hyundai.
Other stories to check out: