Uh, Is Hyundai Serious About Building a Walking Robotic Car?

The rumored purchase of robot-dog company Boston Dynamics makes it seem more likely than ever

Hyundai Elevate walking car
After unveiling the Elevate concept at CES 2019, Hyundai may buy Boston Dynamics.

Concept cars at auto shows rarely make it to production, and when they do, they’re usually in some watered-down format. (Porsche being a rare exception.) So when Hyundai revealed a walking car concept almost two years ago — not at an auto show, but at CES, an even more extravagant showcase of pipe dreams — we made our jokes about our inevitable robot overlords and moved on.

Then last month, Bloomberg reported that Hyundai was in talks to purchase Boston Dynamics from current owner SoftBank for something like a billion dollars. Yes, that Boston Dynamics, the one behind the robot dog Spot that’s straight out of Black Mirror and the even more terrifying humanoid robot Atlas. Then the folks at Car and Driver smartly put two and two together. 

“Why is Hyundai so interested in the robot dog?” the magazine asked. “We have a theory, and it has something to do with Spot’s legs; Hyundai may want to adapt those limbs for its own completely wild walking-car concept.”

That theory may not be as outlandish as it sounds, as Hyundai’s Elevate concept, as it was dubbed at CES 2019, isn’t supposed to be a daily driver. Instead, the initial idea was to build a so-called “Ultimate Mobility Vehicle” (or UMV) that could act as a kind of go-anywhere emergency search-and-rescue vehicle. Add the truly ground-breaking tech from Boston Dynamics robots to Hyundai’s global scale, and that could become a reality sooner than you think.

As Car and Driver noted, if this deal goes through — which isn’t a sure thing yet — it will be the third time in the last decade that Boston Dynamics has changed hands. Google parent company Alphabet acquired it in 2013, then sold it to SoftBank in 2017. Maybe with Hyundai, the company will finally turn a profit; as Bloomberg wrote, that’s one milestone that so far has been out of reach.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.