What is this walking car?
“This is what happens if you combine a car and a robot,” replied John Suh, the founding director of Hyundai New Horizons Studio based in Silicon Valley. The studio has produced a prototype of the Elevate walking car, which Hyundai developed with Autodesk, using generative design software and additive manufacturing 3D printing technology.
The goal of the Elevate project was to design a vehicle with a sure-footed ability to navigate irregular ground. The intention was to create a car with the versatility required during rescue situations, such as after an earthquake.
The Elevate collaboration used Autodesk’s generative design software tools to solve problems related to getting a car to walk. “With generative design, we had the ability to explore hundreds of options for structural design,” said Suh in a statement. “We were looking for a lightweight structure that was strong. The computer goes beyond the normal way we would approach a structural problem.”
Last year, Hyundai brought the concept to Autodesk. “Hyundai wanted to build it and take it to the next level. They wanted to minimize the mass and produce a lot of the parts through new manufacturing techniques such as additive manufacturing,” Andy Harris senior principal research engineer at Autodesk, told Design News. “Also, they wanted to use the simulation tool we have. It was a real challenge to create an all-terrain vehicle but not in the usual sense. It can walk as well as drive. The challenge and novelty attracted us.”
Hyundai wanted to create a vehicle that could perform in a number of environments. “They’ve looked at applying Elevate in medical environments. Or it could be a rescue vehicle…it could even be a taxi that could climb steps to a doorway," said Harris. “It was a broad set of applications they wanted for this vehicle.”
Building the Virtual Vehicle
As the team started to create the simulated vehicle, there were a number of base-line requirements. “They needed high-torque electric motors at each joint of the legs. This requires structural components that are strong and rigid,” said Harris. “The vehicle’s handling and payload required that the in-motor driven wheels – the feet of the vehicle – be lightweight.” The engineering team, which was drawn from both companies, reached these goals using Hyundai’s design and engineering toolset combined with Autodesk’s generative design.
The team leveraged the cloud and a common data platform to ensure everyone was on the same virtual page using Autodesk’s Fusion 360 platform. “The team maintained the details of the project from start to finish using file-sharing tools that kept everyone speaking the same design, engineering, and manufacturing language,” said Harris.
The Elevate team created a simulated vehicle. “It all started with CAD design. They had non-functional components, so we brought our knowledge with aesthetics and generative design,” said Harris. “They wanted to find all of the probabilities that could be done. The concept design phases had a wide range of possibilities, all while looking at stiffness and stress based on the function of the walking vehicle.”
Making the Virtual Car Real
Turning the Pinocchio car into a real car began with the materials. “We went into the design looking for possible materials, and from there we began to converge on aesthetic design,” said Harris. “We were inspired by the computer as well. We wanted to apply additive manufacturing to create an initial prototype. Additive manufacturing is good for low volumes.”
The complexity of different parts requiring different materials was a challenge. “We wanted to ensure we could incorporate a lot of functionality into the components…features to hold cables and merge assemblies,” said Harris. “A lot of the additive manufacturing was done using powder bed fusion metal, the FSS process. We utilized some carbon fiber as well since we needed continuous fiber for high stress.”
As for the legs, there’s where the robot concepts come in. “For the walking legs, one of the partners in the project – Sundberg-Ferar – brought in robotics knowledge,” said Harris. “They designed the ability for the legs to walk in a three-way collaborative movement. We used computer-inspired aesthetics that were manufacturable to achieve the aesthetic.”
Then the team rolled up their collective sleeves and manufactured a prototype. “The focus moved to the prototype,” said Harris. “For this, we used additive manufacturing in order to minimize mass and take advantage of the unique shape, which is slightly organic.” The prototype they created is at a 5:1 scale at this point.
Building it During a Pandemic
In the middle of the project, a global pandemic hit. The team plowed ahead. “With this project, we’re all working from the cloud, so the design simulation was not affected,” said Harris. “The manufacturing, however, requires people to be in the same place. We can start and stop the machine, but when it comes to taking parts out and loading material into the machine, that’s a challenge.”
The team was quite dispersed. Not just from the US and Korea, but also Canada and the UK. “We have a wide team working on this, some engineers in Michigan, some in Boston and Toronto,” said Harris. “We produced some of the parts and did some of the collaboration in California."
Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cybersecurity. For 10 years, he was the owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.