The most common approach to designing robots capable of handling any terrain is to copy Mother Nature’s designs, as Boston Dynamics did with its Spot quadruped. But humans have come up with some clever ideas for getting around too—like the wheel. So, Hyundai is using a hybrid approach for a new robot platform that treats each of its wheels like an articulated leg.
As robots start to creep their way into our daily lives, they don’t quite look like the advanced automatons that science fiction predicted—at least not yet. For now, they’re taking over simpler tasks, and robots like Spot currently function as intelligent pack mules, carrying cargo like cameras, sensors, and scanners so they can perform mundane or dangerous tasks like inspections so humans don’t have to.
Hyundai’s Mobile Eccentric Droid—or MobED, for short—is designed for roughly the same sorts of tasks, but it improves upon robots like Spot with the use of four independent and highly adjustable wheels that ensure the robot’s flat rectangular body can be kept level and stable even when traversing uneven terrain. Each wheel uses three electric motors for steering and adjusting the posture of MobED’s primary platform which allows the robot to easily navigate tight corners and even steep inclines while keeping cargo safely secure.
Weighing in at just over 110 pounds, the use of wheels allows MobED to hit a top speed of almost 19 miles per hour and drive at that speed for almost four hours on a single charge. That’s considerably faster than robots like Boston Dynamics’s Spot whose use of four articulated legs limits its top to speed to just below four miles per hour with about 90 minutes of run time. The active stabilization also makes MobED’s flat rectangular body more versatile. In addition to applications like carrying a mountain of shipping boxes, Hyundai envisions several other applications for the platform, including an autonomous baby stroller, a mobility device, or even a self-powered and programmable camera dolly for the motion picture industry.
The company hasn’t revealed details on MobED’s carrying capacity, but the platform can presumably be scaled up with larger wheels and more powerful components and motors to increase the type and amount of cargo it can carry. Hyundai will be demonstrating MobED at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month, with hopefully more details about whether this will remain a concept, or be developed into a device consumers can actually get their hands on.