I’ll admit I’m one of those people that has looked derisively at the AT-AT Walkers in “Star Wars” and other weird walking vehicles from various science fiction franchises in the past. I mean, walking is mechanically more complicated, slower and less efficient than a rolling wheel – hence the dearth of any practical walking vehicles. At least, until now.
Hyundai debuted a video animation at CES 2019 in Las Vegas this week showing off its walking car concept dubbed “Elevate.” Unlike the All Terrain Armored Transport that George Lucas threw into the Battle of Hoth, this vehicle involves some inspired engineering that I wouldn’t mind having along for some epic back-county skiing or biking trips some day. But just like the AT-AT, I sure wouldn’t want one pursuing me, ever.
While it’s not armed with laser cannons (yet), Elevate’s mobility capability is impressive thanks to what Hyundai calls “five degrees of freedom,” which is how it describes the five different joints on the legs that connect to each wheel. The legs can fold up, allowing the vehicle to drive like a normal car but can also enable it to go just about anywhere by either rolling or walking when unfolded. Here’s how the company describes it:
“This design is uniquely capable of both mammalian and reptilian walking gaits, allowing it to move in any direction. The legs also fold up into a stowed drive-mode… this allows Elevate to drive at highway speeds just like any other vehicle. But no other can climb a five foot wall, step over a five foot gap, walk over diverse terrain, and achieve a 15 foot wide track width, all while keeping its body and passengers completely level.”
The concept comes from Hyundai Cradle, the carmaker’s venture arm that invests and partners with innovative startups. The partner for Elevate isn’t exactly a startup however: Detroit-based design firm Sundberg-Ferar has been around since 1934. Hyundai is pitching the concept as the future of disaster response, especially when rescue might involve navigating debris fields, as well as a resource for people living with disabilities and other day-to-day scenarios.
“Imagine a car stranded in a snow ditch just ten feet off the highway being able to walk or climb over the treacherous terrain, back to the road potentially saving its injured passengers – this is the future of vehicular mobility,” said Sundberg-Ferar design manager David Byron.
Elevate is also a fully electric vehicle with a modular design that allows for the entire cabin to be swapped out, enabling completely different applications such as military use. Of course, right now all we have is the above video and a small scale model Hyundai had on stage at CES. I reached out to Hyundai to ask how far along they are on producing a proof of concept and will let you know what the company has to say.