Hyundai Enters the Metaverse Via Its PnD Technology
New automated single-wheel platform ties into virtual-reality and digital-twin tech to create 'metamobility' applications.
When Facebook announced last October that it was changing its name to Meta, most wondered whether people would want to spend as much time in a virtual world as they do on the platforms browsing pics, posts and political rants. At CES2022, Hyundai Motor Group announced that it is jumping into the metaverse for what it calls “Metamobility” purposes, which potentially could be much more beneficial for transportation, manufacturing and society at large than Facebook’s digital playground.
Hyundai’s Metamobility vision marries emerging trends such as robotics, virtual reality and “digital twin” technology with the company’s traditional competencies in personal mobility and manufacturing, while revealing how it will leverage its acquisition last year of robot developer Boston Dynamics. The Korean automaker unveiled several new hardware solutions that will help it achieve its overarching goal of “Expanding Human Reach,” including a linchpin Plug & Drive (PnD) modular platform that can autonomously move people and goods.
The PnD module is an automated, electric-powered, single-wheel design that incorporates motors and suspension components as well as lidar sensors and cameras. Hyundai says the PnD modules “can be scaled up or down, for any purpose, size or application,” and use “a steering actuator for infinite wheel rotation, meaning it can turn 360 degrees, which enables holonomic movement, like a figure skater.”
One platform, many applications
At CES, Hyundai showed four primary application concepts enabled by the PnD platform: Personal Mobility, Service Mobility, Logistics Mobility and L7. The Personal Mobility concept is equipped with four 5.5-inch (14-cm) PnD modules and is intended to provide mobility for a single passenger. It uses rotary doors to save space and operates via a joystick. The PnD-powered Personal Mobility modules can also attach to a “mother shuttle” to form bus-like transport but detach to take occupants directly to their final destination.
Using the same PnD platform, the Service Mobility and Logistic Mobility concepts have drawer-like storage bins. Hyundai envisions the Service Mobility unit as being used for “diverse applications, such as transporting customers’ luggage in hotels,” while the Logistics Mobility is designed for moving materials and goods in industrial environments. The L7 combines four larger 12-inch (30-cm) PnD modules at each corner and a seat that rotates so that passengers can get on and off easily. It is operated with a joystick and can also be reconfigured sans seat to carry packages or equipment for logistic applications.
In addition, Hyundai unveiled a Drive and Lift (DnL) modular mobility system that, like PnD, integrates drive, steering and braking systems into a single module, but with a rotating arm that allows each wheel to articulate and lift independently. This allows for mobility on uneven terrain while keeping a load level or even the ability to climb small steps. One application for DnL Hyundai showed at CES is MobED, a bot with a 2-kWh battery and a tabletlike screen on an articulating arm that could be used as a robotic tour guide or assistant.
Time and place become irrelevant
While Hyundai’s “Mobility of Things” vision sounds like something out of science fiction – and perhaps CES “vaporware” – the underlying technology has immediate real-world applications when tied together with virtual reality and digital-twin tech. (During Hyundai’s CES press conference Boston Dynamics founder and chairman Marc Raibert came up with a prefect analogy to explain the concept of a digital twin: a car’s in-dash navigation system that displays a digital version of the real world outside.) For example, using a robot with Hyundai’s PnD platform and leveraging virtual reality and digital-twin technology, a person could access their home from halfway around the globe to check in and interact with family members or care and feed a pet.
Raibert also gave the example of a robot being able to assist an elderly person in getting dressed, rather than placing the burden on family members or paying for in-home human care. He added that such robots could also be used in nursing homes, which will be a growing – and lucrative – market as the aging population grows.
Perhaps the most immediate application and payoff of the technology will be for industrial applications. For example, a team of engineers in the U.S. could be virtually onsite at a factory in Korea – or anywhere in the word – to evaluate a design or diagnose an issue. By setting up a metauniverse, people will be able to move freely between the physical and virtual worlds, according to Chang Song, president and head of Hyundai’s transportation-as-a-service division. “Time and place become irrelevant,” he said, “and we’ll be able to move people and resources in a whole new way, expanding human reach.”
Real application coming soon
Beyond the PnD-based forward-looking mobility concepts Hyundai showed at CES, company executives who spoke were less clear about how the new technology will be used in the company’s bread-and-butter vehicle-manufacturing and sales business. Song mentioned that the technology eventually will be applied to Hyundai “cars, robots and UAVs,” the unmanned aerial vehicles that the company is developing and plans to deploy through its Supernal division.
Raibert was candid when he mentioned in the CES press briefing that “it’s still a question on how to integrate the technology with automotive and we’re tasked with figuring it out.” But he added that industrial duties can be done more efficiently using PnD and related technologies. “It will be much more applicable in manufacturing,” he said. “That’s almost a no-brainer.”
Hyundai Motor Group chairman Euisun Chung said during the CES press conference that he sees metamobility as a “natural extension of our mobility services”. And Song added that while the PnD technology is conceptual at this point, Hyundai is “thinking about mass production and we’ll show the real application soon.”