It may just be a coincidence but natural disasters seem to be more frequent these days, with earthquakes and tsunamis being the common ones. In the aftermath of such disasters when buildings may have collapsed or large areas are flooded, it is crucial for rescuers to get to victims within the first 72 hours. Every hour can make a difference but there are times when, due to the nature of the disaster (forest fire, earthquake, hurricane, or flood), it can be difficult for search-and-rescue and humanitarian aid missions to reach and get immediate help to those in need.

The need for efficient, rapid, resilient transportation for disaster assistance led Hyundai to develop the first-ever vehicle with moveable legs. Known as ‘Elevate’, it is the first Ultimate Mobility Vehicle (UMV) and blends technology found in electric cars and robots. It is capable of travelling over terrain that is beyond the limitations of even the most capable off-road vehicle.

“When a tsunami or earthquake hits, current rescue vehicles can only deliver first responders to the edge of the debris field. 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,” said John Suh, Hyundai Vice President and Head of Hyundai CRADLE. “This technology goes well beyond emergency situations – people living with disabilities worldwide that don’t have access to a 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 Elevate concept is based on a modular EV platform with the capability to switch out different bodies for specific situations. The robotic leg architecture has 5 degrees of freedom plus wheel hub propulsion motors and is enabled by the latest in electric actuator technology. This design is uniquely capable of both mammalian and reptilian walking gaits, allowing it to move in any direction. Inside the Elevate, passengers would experience a vehicle fully engineered to tackle the roughest terrain comfortably.

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 1.5-metre high wall, step over a 1.5-metre wide gap, walk over diverse terrain, and achieve a 5-metre 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.

“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, which collaborated with Hyundai on the project. “Imagine a car stranded in a snow ditch just 3 metres 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.”

“We have been working with Sundberg-Ferar on the Elevate Concept for almost 3 years now,” said Mr. Suh. “Elevate is part of our various ‘Last-Mile’ technologies and solutions and it also has ‘Last-100 Yards’ capability too.”

Based in California, Hyundai CRADLE is a unit of the Hyundai Motor Group (HMG) and is described as the Centre for Robotic-augmented Design in Living Experiences. As HMG’s venture capital investment arm, it is involved in strategic investments and business partnerships in the USA. The firm focuses on the connected car, eco-friendly and intelligent systems and manufacturing technologies sectors.

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