Hyundai revealed its new crewless TIGER X-1 concept Tuesday. This unmanned utility vehicle (UMV) is the lynchpin of Hyundai's experimental T.ransforming I.ntelligent G.round E.xcursion R.obot platform, which is designed to tackle harsh terrain on Earth (or off it), giving operators remote access to environments that would otherwise be too hostile for exploration.
The TIGER X-1 concept is intended to be a compact, unmanned expedition vehicle operated remotely (or, potentially in the future, by AI) and capable of tackling obstacles that most traditional wheeled vehicles would not necessarily be equipped to overcome. For all intents and purposes resembling a moon lander at first glance, the X-1 can also "walk" with its wheels locked in place and its articulating legs extended, drastically increasing its ground clearance and maneuverability.
Hyundai describes the TIGER system as a "mobility" platform, but we're not entirely certain that's the best way to describe it, considering its scale. While we suppose one (in this case, Hyundai) could argue that the TIGER X-1 might someday help to enable a degree of mobility in remote spaces (whether by helping to provide logistical support or other secondary functions), we're not quite on board yet.
To further compound the issue, this is essentially a scaled-down version of Hyundai's own ELEVATE platform, which employed the same basic go-anywhere concept but on a scale intended for accommodating passengers, crew and larger cargo. The TIGER X-1, by contrast, is only a little larger than a typical carry-on suitcase.
Both projects bear the fingerprints of Hyundai's John Suh, vice president and head of Hyundai's New Horizons Studio, headquartered in Mountain View, California. The studio, established last year, is in charge of developing UMVs, drawing on research and innovation leadership from Silicon Valley and other innovation hubs, including Hyundai's own CRADLE (Center for Robotic-Augmented Design in Living Experiences), which developed the ELEVATE concept.
“Vehicles like TIGER, and the technologies underpinning it, give us an opportunity to push our imaginations,” said Suh, in Hyundai's announcement. “We are constantly looking at ways to rethink vehicle design and development and re-define the future of transportation and mobility.”
A system like TIGER could have numerous applications, from simple delivery duties, to scouting, to equipment maintenance in remote locations — even those on other celestial bodies. That the concept depicted here looks a lot like a lunar buggy is certainly no accident.
Hyundai is pretty much open to exploring any use case that potential customers might envision, from business logistics to academic/non-governmental research support to yes, even military applications. "There's always that possibility," said Suh, who pointed out that there are plenty of applications for small-scale robotics that have nothing to do with combat.
For now, TIGER is still a bit of an exploratory project rather than a guaranteed future product, and the full scope of any production platform's capabilities will likely be defined by Hyundai's customers, which, at the time of publication, don't yet exist. The carrier drone shown is not within the current scope of the project, but something with which it is intended to be compatible.
Hyundai will continue to work on studying both the feasibility and demand sides of the TIGER equation, and Suh welcomes input from the company's new acquisition: Boston Dynamics. Hey, if all we get out of this is a bunch of dancing robots that transform into miniature cars, that's still a win, right?