Back in 2019, Hyundai debuted a concept for a car with legs that it called Elevate. Each of the four wheels sits at the end of an articulating leg that would allow the vehicle to change its orientation. It was built for hauling people, mostly on city or suburban streets. Now, the company has refined the idea with a concept called Tiger that’s designed for carrying cargo over even tougher terrain.
Tiger looks like a space rover—even in the product images that don’t depict it crawling across a suspiciously moon-like setting. The wheel-equipped legs pivot 360 degrees in their sockets and articulated joints allow them to extend and retract when necessary.
With the legs fully retracted, the Tiger moves like a typical golf cart, which is the most power-efficient way for it to putter around. When it comes across an obstacle that it can’t clear or a patch of extremely rough ground, it can extend the legs and “walk” along until it finds flat ground again. According to the company, the design drew inspiration from the ways in which some lizards walk.
Like its cousin, Spot—Hyundai purchased Boston Robotics for more than $1 billion at the end of 2020—Tiger is designed to operate autonomously. That has obvious benefits for a vehicle that could work as a space rover, but it could also come in handy here on Earth for traveling into dangerous spaces like oil drilling operations or even mine fields. The Tiger’s build would allow it to deploy from drones to take humans out of the equation to an even greater extent.
As you might expect, Tiger has the capacity to carry a variety of onboard sensors, including everything from guidance systems for navigating around on its own to optical and infrared cameras for making observations.
Tiger isn’t designed with the same kind of agility as the Boston Dynamics Spot robot when it comes to footwork. Tiger will only walk when it has to, in order to find a place it can get back to more standard driving. Of course, it’s just a concept for the moment and may never make its way into the real world, but Hyundai has clearly been continuing its work with the New Horizon Studio, which started up in 2020.
The timing of Hyundai’s announcement—and the outer space theme of the marketing material—isn’t a coincidence. On February 18th, the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is scheduled to land on Mars at approximately 4 p.m. Eastern.
While Hyundai didn’t have anything to do with Perseverance, it’s easy to imagine something like Tiger making the trip to Mars in the future. After roughly five years on the Red Planet, the Curiosity Rover’s wheels started to fall apart. Perhaps a future version will be able to step over particularly gnarly terrain in order to save some wear and tear on its kicks.