Forget the Internet of Things. Hyundai Motor Co. is taking the concept to a whole new level with its Mobility of Things, a project that aims to turn everyday objects into robots. The concept: attach custom-designed platforms to stationary items to make them capable of autonomous movement. Some of the potential applications are modest, like ensuring plants are exposed to maximum sunlight throughout the day. But others are potentially game-changing—think rearranging office furniture to create on-demand workspaces.
“In the world to come, you won’t move your things—they will move around you,” says Dong Jin Hyun, VP and head of robotics lab, Hyundai Motor Group. “The goal is for robotics to enable all kinds of personal mobility.”
Hyundai unveiled prototypes of two Mobility of Things platforms in January—the culmination of project leaders working on multiple iterations in recent years.
The first module was built with wheels that rotate so it can move or turn in any direction—making it “adaptive and expandable to match human needs,” Hyun says. Hotels, for example, could use the platform to shuttle luggage.
For uneven surfaces and other low barriers, the team developed a second module that can adapt to inclines or bumpy terrain so whatever is attached remains stable. The result? A next-gen tool that can be used for everything from automating delivery services to converting baby carriers into hands-free strollers.
“The main challenge in the design process is to come up with how to get the compact but robust design for multipurposes,” says Sung-Jun Kim, senior researcher at Hyundai’s robot business operation team.
To help crack that complexity, the South Korean company took a controlling stake of robotics giant Boston Dynamics last year. The move provides a new means of deep collaboration with an industry trailblazer—and expanded the teams’ insights for developing mission-critical solutions. Case in point: when the team iterated its way through creating control algorithms that could work in unison—a critical piece in achieving the groundbreaking objectives the company was after.
Although Hyundai hasn’t revealed the timeline for bringing its Mobility of Things to market, teams continue to fine-tune the technology and reimagine the boundaries of their applications. One big idea: Integrate the mobility platforms into public transportation networks so people could have their very own robo-pods that attach to or detach from autonomous shuttles.
“There are still many technological challenges to make this a reality, but we are striving to take things step by step, while achieving milestones with our accumulated technologies,” says Kim.