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Hyundai wants to sell this crazy autonomous walking car

The Tiger X-1 compact electric walking vehicle is designed for autonomous duty in extreme environments, including on the moon.

Do you remember Hyundai's crazy Elevate walking vehicle concept from CES 2019? The Korean automaker is back with a remix on that walking vehicle theme: the Transforming Intelligent Ground Excursion Robot Experiment, or Tiger X-1 for short. No, that wasn't a one-off, Hyundai is seriously pursuing this type of legged vehicle for eventual production.

Hyundai expects robotics will play a huge role in future mobility, estimating that a large share of its future earnings will come from robo-tech like wearable exoskeletons, unmanned aerial vehicles and walking cars. The automaker put its money where its mouth is in December, acquiring a $1.1 billion controlling stake in Boston Dynamics, a company best known for its walking and dancing robots.

The Hyundai Tiger X-1 concept can walk and roll over rough terrain and operate in zero atmosphere.

Hyundai New Horizons Studio

The Tiger, like the Elevate concept before it, predates the Boston Dynamics acquisition and was developed by Hyundai Motor Group's New Horizons Studio headquartered in Mountain View, California, in partnership with engineering software company Autodesk and industrial design consultants Sundberg-Ferar.

The working concept, unveiled Tuesday, can transition from electric four-wheel-drive operation to four-legged walking to allow it to traverse uneven and otherwise inaccessible terrain. Each of its legs has six points of articulation between the wheel and the chassis, whose omnidirectional design can rotate and move with equal ease in any direction -- forward, backward or laterally. Including the wheels' motors, there are a total of 28 motors and 28 position sensors between the X-1's four legs.

Tiger X-1 can fold its legs for omnidirectional electric all-wheel-drive.

Hyundai New Horizons Studio

Over relatively smooth terrain, the legs fold and the Tiger rolls like any other car would, albeit with much more control at each corner than any conventionally suspended vehicle. When the road gets rough or when leaving the road behind altogether, however, the legs can extend, lift and rotate over obstacles allowing the Tiger to walk (or perform an odd combination of walk-rolling) over obstacles, while maintaining a level body, which could be important to the X-1's payload.

"Vehicles like Tiger, and the technologies underpinning it, give us an opportunity to push our imaginations," said Dr. John Suh, head of the New Horizons Studio. "We are constantly looking at ways to rethink vehicle design and development and redefine the future of transportation and mobility."

Where the Elevate was designed to be vaguely Palisade-sized with a passenger compartment in mind, the Tiger X-1 is a smaller, modular autonomous platform that can accommodate a wide range of missions, such as unmanned scientific exploration of extreme environments, payload delivery for remote and inaccessible locations or a variety of emergency services, like delivering medicine or equipment to the site of a natural disaster. Hyundai even imagines the X-1's missions stretching to the extraterrestrial, visualizing the Tiger exploring the moon or other planets during its video debut.

Tiger's small size means it could be delivered to and extracted from locations via unmanned aerial drone.

Hyundai New Horizons Studio

The entire prototype is about the size of a carry-on suitcase -- measuring approximately 31 inches long and 16 inches wide when folded up. The small size means that the 26-pound Tiger X-1 could potentially be deployed, recharged and then retrieved from its mission via an autonomous quadcopter, though that piece of the puzzle is perhaps the most conceptual part of Hyundai's vision.

The X-1's chassis, leg segments and even its wheels and nonpneumatic tires are constructed via additive manufacturing -- or 3D printing for us laymen -- benefitting from Autodesk's expertise with generative design to create light, strong components. (Other examples of generative design elsewhere in the industry include Porsche's 3D printed pistons and Bugatti's printed titanium brake calipers.)

The legs feature six points of articulation each, allowing the concept to walk and climb over extreme terrain.

Hyundai New Horizons Studio

Hyundai is also playing with the idea of walking technology eventually making its way into road-going vehicles, for example a robotic taxi that can reposition its chassis for better access for wheelchair users without the need for ramps.

Though small in stature today, Hyundai New Horizons is open to the idea of scaling up the concept to tackle bigger jobs. Just how much larger is unclear at this point in the Tiger's development and will largely depend on the needs of the walking car's customers when Hyundai transitions into production sometime in the future.