Park Jung-kook, center, president and head of the R&D division of Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors, holds a signed agreement for joint development of a lunar surface exploration vehicle with leaders of six state-funded research institutes at Lotte City Hotel in Daejeon, South Korea, July 27. Credit: Hyundai Motor

SEOUL, South Korea — Hyundai Motor is moving to develop a vehicle for lunar surface exploration. 

The Korean carmaker and its sister company Kia Motors formed a consortium July 27 with six state-funded research institutes here to explore the concept of lunar exploration mobility and core technologies required. They will also layout strategies for sending the vehicle to the moon and operating it once there. 

The six partner institutes are:

  • Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI)
  • Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI)
  • Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI)
  • Korea Automotive Technology Institute (KATECH)
  • Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology (KICT)
  • Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI)

“We will expand the scope of human movement experience beyond traditional means of transport and beyond the bounds of Earth to further contribute to the progress of humankind and help create a better future,” said Kim Yong-wha, executive vice president of Hyundai, in a July 27 statement.

Hyundai and Kia will contribute to the mission with their robotic technologies and software and hardware design expertise. Hyundai has bolstered its competitiveness in robotics. The company acquired a controlling stake in Boston Dynamics, an American engineering and robotics design company, in June 2021. Boston Dynamics’ four-legged robot dog, named NeBula-SPOT, was recognized by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory for its ability to autonomously explore hundreds of meters of Martian-like caves with no prior information about the map or features of the environment. In December 2020, NASA scientists suggested the idea of sending a modified version of the robot dog to Mars to navigate treacherous terrain and subsurface caves, which wheeled rovers never could.

On top of this, Hyundai has developed wearable robots, artificial intelligence-powered service robots and mobile robots through its robotics-specialized internal laboratory, Robotics LAB.

Hyundai said the consortium would start working in August but didn’t share further details.

Park Si-soo covers space industries in South Korea, Japan and other Asian countries. Park worked at The Korea Times — South Korea's leading English language newspaper — from 2007 to 2020. He earned a master’s degree in science journalism from Korea...