Does this eight-legged transforming robot portend our future cars?

A horseshoe-shaped, eight-legged robot is part of a project to develop a robotic vehicle that can travel over rough terrain.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read

When you picture the vehicle of the future, you probably imagine something solar-powered that hovers, but how would you feel driving around in a self-driving, giant transforming horseshoe crab?

Meet Halluc IIx, the second iteration of the Hallucigenia Project, which made its debut at Linz, Austria's Ars Electronica festival from September 3-7.

The aim of the project, under development at the Future Robotics Technology Centre of Japan's Chiba Institute of Technology, is to review the relationship between society and the automobile. From there, the team hopes to advance the basic principles of the vehicle towards a changing future and the increasingly limited space in crowded cities and urban environments.

The project is named after Hallucigenia, a deeply peculiar creature known only from its Cambrian-period fossils found in Burgess shale-like deposits in Canada and China.

Halluc IIx, the horseshoe crab-like robot inspired by a Cambrian fossil. Seiji Mizuno/FuRo

"Hallucigenia is an organism that was so named by fossil scientists due to its strange form. As a result of the great evolutionary flowering, only a handful of organisms survived and became our ancestors," the project's original outline, published in 2004, explained.

"Hallucigenia died off without leaving offspring. However, there is no doubt that the archetypes for organisms today are the result of various experiments. This project was named Hallucigenia in the hope that the experimental designs can trigger the evolution of new designs and might become the archetype for future vehicles."

Halluc IIx is the latest version of the vehicle, building on the more van-like original Hallucigenia01 concept, which evolved into Halluc II. Halluc IIx refines the Halluc II design.

An eight wheel vehicle, it can perform fine manoeuvres, such as raising and lowering its body to traverse tricky terrain, rotating its wheels to move in any direction, and even transforming into a walking robot on eight legs.

"The concept of Halluc II, model 2 of the Hallucigenia project, is a future vehicle that can co-exists with natural environment. It features a newly developed ultra-multi-motored system with 56 motors, which makes travelling on unpaved surfaces possible and eliminates the need for paving," the FuRo website reads.

"It transforms into three modes: vehicle, insect, and animal mode. The fusion of humanoid robot technologies and automobile technologies realised the unprecedented mobility of Halluc II."

The scaled-down Halluc IIx concept isn't yet suitable for human transportation, and will probably be some time away, since self-driving cars aren't even widely available yet. But a future with these bad boys skittering all over the city streets is a magnificent future indeed.

You can read more about the Hallucigenia Project on the FuRo website.