More than ever before, we have seen the stuff of science fiction crossing over to the real world in the past few decades. Self-driving vehicles and even flying cars are passé. Now we have the world’s first walking car. Yes, the robotic vehicle shown by South Korean auto giant Hyundai at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has four legs. And although it’s a concept at this stage, Hyundai sees it turning into a working model in near future, helping first responders handle emergency situations better and people living with disabilities.

Dubbed Elevate, the concept is positioned as the world’s first Ultimate Mobility Vehicle. Blending technology from electric cars and robots, Elevate can negotiate terrain that even the most capable off-road vehicles cannot. Primarily aimed at providing efficient, swift transportation for disaster assistance, search-and-rescue and humanitarian aid missions, the concept has wheels with hub-mounted electric motors attached to extendable robotic legs. This set-up helps it drive, walk or climb over obstacles.

While a working scale model was used at CES to demonstrate the design in action, engineers claim a full-size version could climb over obstacles 1.5 metres tall, or stride across a gap that’s 1.5 metres wide. The modular chassis will let a number of different bodies to be swapped on and off, depending on requirements.

“When a tsunami or earthquake hits, current rescue vehicles can only deliver first responders to the edge of the debris field. They have to go the rest of the way by foot. Elevate can drive to the scene and climb right over flood debris or crumbled concrete,” says John Suh, Vice President and Head of Hyundai CRADLE, the carmaker’s venturing and open innovation arm. “This technology goes well beyond emergency situations. People living with disabilities worldwide that don’t have access to an ADA [wheelchair] ramp could hail an autonomous Hyundai Elevate that could walk up to their front door, level itself, and allow their wheelchair to roll right in. The possibilities are limitless.”

Elevate is the result of a collaboration between Hyundai and industrial design consultancy Sundberg-Frear. “By combining the power of robotics with Hyundai’s latest EV technology, Elevate has the ability to take people where no car has been before, and redefine our perception of vehicular freedom,” said David Byron, design manager, Sundberg-Ferar. “Imagine a car stranded in a snow ditch just 10 feet off the highway being able to walk or climb over the treacherous terrain, back to the road potentially saving its injured passengers – this is the future of vehicular mobility.”