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By David Freeman
There are cars that drive, cars that fly and cars that can move on water. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Hyundai on Monday unveiled its concept for a car with wheeled robotic legs that can drive, walk and even climb.
The Korean carmaker calls its “Elevate” concept the first vehicle with moveable legs and says it could go places conventional off-road vehicles can’t. The company developed the concept vehicle for use in search-and-rescue and humanitarian missions in areas struck by earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters.
The vehicle might also make it easier for disabled people to get around.
“People living with disabilities worldwide that don’t have access to an ADA 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,” John Suh, a vice president at Hyundai and head of the company team that helped create the concept, said in a statement, referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The vehicle hasn’t actually been built, but the basic technology has been proven in one-fifth scale models, a company spokesman said.
“Wonderful to see the auto industry embrace innovation and focus on the many niche needs — as opposed to just the mass (SUV) market,” Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, told NBC News MACH in an email. “Let’s cheer them on,” he added, “but making sure it is safe and compatible with pedestrians cars, and buildings will be challenging.”
A slick promotional animation released by Hyundai shows the vehicle moving easily over various types of terrain. On smooth surfaces, it simply rolls along on wheels much like a conventional car. On steep or rocky surfaces, the vehicle extends its legs and starts walking.
There are two walking modes. In “reptilian mode,” the vehicle spreads its legs wide and moves about like a lizard. In “mammalian mode,” the legs are extended below, and the vehicle moves with an almost humanlike gait.
The vehicle can walk in any direction and is capable of stepping over a five-foot gap and climbing over a five-foot wall as well as speeding along a highway, according to the company.
Just don’t expect “Elevate” to show up in Hyundai showrooms anytime soon. The spokesman said there were no immediate plans to produce the vehicle.