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Hyundai is building a car that can walk on four legs

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Elevate is a concept that has legs... literally

Image: Hyundai

CES typically attracts whacky ideas, especially from automakers that tend to use the electronics show to showcase their most outlandish and unbuildable products. Unfortunately, the 2019 show has been pretty tame by most measures, which is why it’s so refreshing that Hyundai came to Las Vegas with a truly bonkers idea: a “walking car” with real, bendable legs. At last, something to haunt my dreams!

Like some mashup between a Boston Dynamics robot and something you might find stomping across the frozen surface of the planet Hoth, Hyundai’s Elevate vehicle is an automotive concept I can’t recall having seen before. Hyundai says it designed it for first responders who need to access difficult terrain. (Think mountains, forests, or other rock-strewn landscapes that are inaccessible to most terrestrial vehicles.) Electrically powered and modular so it can swap vehicle bodies for a variety of use cases, the South Korean automaker is calling it an “Ultimate Mobility Vehicle.”

Elevate has four “legs,” each with a series of joints, enabling the vehicle to mimic both mammalian and reptilian walking gaits. Here’s how the automaker describes this truly bizarre feature:

The legs also fold up into a stowed drive-mode, where power to the joints is cut, and the use of an integrated passive suspension system maximizes battery efficiency. 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. Further, the combination of wheeled motion with articulating legs provides a new paradigm of mobility by enabling faster walking speeds, unique dynamic driving postures and torsional control at the end of each leg.

If you’re getting a strong Mars Rover vibe off this thing, that’s on purpose: Hyundai thinks the technology underpinning this vehicle could make it ripe for an interplanetary mission. “By combining the power of robotics with Hyundai’s latest EV technology, Elevate has the ability to take people where no car has been before, and redefine our perception of vehicular freedom,” said David Byron, design manager at Sundberg Ferar.

Unfortunately, there’s no full-scale prototype to gawk at; instead, we get these videos of a not-to-scale model performing its featured leg stretches as well as some flashy computer graphics of how this thing will look in its final form.

In addition to emergency services, Hyundai says its concept could be ideal as a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. Imagine opening your front door to find this thing waiting right outside. Not at all creepy!