A few years ago, most automakers stopped calling themselves car companies and started calling themselves mobility companies. Mobility, you see, is all the rage on Wall Street, and automakers hope to cash in on investors’ enthusiasm.
So far investors haven’t bit. They don’t see traditional OEMs as mobility companies, at least not yet. That may begin to change later this year as GM Cruise launches Level 4 robotaxi services for public use. Or as automakers such as Ford start selling mobility services for commercial vehicles, such as software tools for fleet management. Maybe moves like these could convince investors that traditional car companies are more than just a bunch of metal benders.
And then there’s the VTOLs, or passenger drones. Mercedes, Cadillac, Geely, Porsche, Hyundai and Aston Martin have all shown their own VTOL (vertical take-off & landing) concepts. If automakers truly start flying these machines through the air, the public will definitely start thinking of them as more than just companies that sell cars.
But all these examples involve vehicles. And we all understand vehicles. You get in them, they take you someplace, and you get out. They operate in the physical world that we’ve all grown up in.
Meanwhile, Hyundai’s vision of mobility, which it unveiled at CES 2022, has nothing to do with cars or trucks. It goes beyond the physical world and straight into the metaverse.
You know the metaverse. That’s the virtual reality world that exists on the internet. It’s the place where you can create your own avatar and live vicariously through this digital version of yourself. You can buy and sell things. You can meet and greet people. You can do whatever you want, living in a brand-new world that you experience through virtual reality goggles.
Hyundai believes we’ll soon move seamlessly between the physical world and the metaverse. In fact, it has coined a new term for this: metamobility. And it wants to make the things that will make this possible.
In Hyundai’s view, we’re going to live in three worlds: The physical world we know today, the physical world that we’ll experience through our own personal robots and then, of course, the metaverse.
No need to explain the physical world we live in today. You’re already living in it. It’s the next step where things get interesting. The one where we’ll experience the physical world through robots.
Hyundai believes we’ll soon have personal robots that will do things for us while we’re off doing something else. Like feeding the dog at home while we’re off on a business trip. And this goes beyond programming a robot to do certain tasks at specific times. You’ll put on a set of virtual-reality goggles and you’ll see what your robot sees. In fact, you’ll control the robot virtually as if you were living inside it. So, you could be lying on the back deck getting a tan while you guide your robot around the house, vacuuming and dusting.
It’s already happening. Boston Dynamics has robots running around Chernobyl, the city in Ukraine that suffered a catastrophic nuclear plant meltdown in 1986. Investigators use the goggles to guide the robots to roam the city, sniffing out areas of high radiation.
This is exactly why Hyundai bought Boston Dynamics, which is probably the most advanced robotics company in the world. No doubt you’ve seen YouTube videos of Boston Dynamics’ robots dancing to music and doing other things you’d never expect to see a robot do. Boston Dynamics fits perfectly into Hyundai’s vision of future metamobility.
Hyundai didn’t provide a grand vision of how we’ll live in the third area, the metaverse. Maybe it’s still trying to figure that out. Or maybe it didn’t want to tip its hand. But it really believes that’s where its future growth lies.
And it doesn’t see this happening in some far-out future. By the end of this decade Hyundai believes 50% of its revenue will come from selling cars and trucks, 30% will come from VTOLs and 20% will come from metamobility.
In other words, in Hyundai’s view metamobility is right around the corner. And that’s a vision that goes far beyond what any other metal bender is talking about.
John McElroy (pictured above, left) is editorial director of Blue Sky Productions and producer of “Autoline Detroit” for WTVS-Channel 56, Detroit.