The Hyundai Elevate demonstrates its mammalian walking gaits (all images courtesy Hyundai)

Can your car climb a five-foot wall with articulated leg movement and the mobility of a lithe, double-jointed acrobat? Preparing as all for the oncoming ecological apocalypse, automaker Hyundai recently released concept designs for Elevate, a car developed to weather even the worst natural disasters.

Despite looking like a cross between a Mars rover and those murderous metalheads from a Black Mirror episode, the Hyundai Elevate is being developed for first responders who must often save disaster victims within a crucial 72-hour window of time.

“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,” said John Suh, Vice President and Head of Hyundai CRADLE, in a statement. “This technology goes well beyond emergency situations. People living with disabilities worldwide that don’t have access to an ADA 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.”

Whether or not these hulking semi-robotic quadrupeds will be allowed on the city streets is another story, but Elevate’s leg architecture is said to have programming capabilities to mimic both mammalian and reptilian walking gaits. In design renderings, Hyundai creators have imagined a New York taxi arching its legs forward to drop off a wheelchair-bound passenger at the top of a stairway that he would otherwise have trouble reaching.

The Hyundai Elevate Concept helps a person get to a doctor appointment in a city.

The development of “walking vehicles,” as they are called, has been a preoccupation of the automotive industry for some time now, but like Elevate, most are still stuck in the experimental phase. Potential creations really run the gamut from colossal coal-mining excavators to military robots. Still, it’s a far cry from other (slightly apocalyptic) science-fiction fantasies of Star Wars walkers and spider-like sentinels.

Bringing some of these nightmares to life, Dutch artist Theo Jansen has for many years investigated the field by designing kinetic sculptures of large, skeletal creatures propelled by the wind. His walkers, called Strandbeest, are typically created from PVC tubes, string, and plastic water bottles. As Hyperallergic reported in 2015, Jansen’s ultimate goal with his creations, solely dependent on the wind, is to build a herd that will not only survive on its own but also reproduce.

Hyundai seems less interested in these futuristic visions and more focused on real-world applications for its new technology.

“Elevate has the ability to take people where no car has been before, and redefine our perception of vehicular freedom,” said David Byron, a design manager with the project. “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.”

A Hyundai Elevate climbs itself out of a snow-covered ditch

The Hyundai Elevate Concept in action after an earthquake

The Hyundai Elevate in drive mode

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Zachary Small

Zachary Small was the senior writer at Hyperallergic and has written for The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Nation, The Times Literary Supplement, Artforum, and other publications. They have...