Hyundai Motor Group and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) announced a research collaboration to examine the relationships among natural and built environments to propose new directions for the future of mobility.

The study expands on the smart mobility vision announced by Hyundai Motor Group at CES 2020. Hyundai’s vision, which aims to help vitalise human-centred future cities, focuses on three mobility solutions: Urban Air Mobility (UAM), Purpose Built Vehicle (PBV) and Hub.

Hyundai RISD Nature Lab 1

The joint research with RISD will help infuse these solutions with insights from the school’s pioneering faculty and students. Through their Research and Strategic Partnerships programme, the partnership with Hyundai elevates the expertise of faculty with the experimental creativity of students to conceive ‘future realities’.

For the research, Hyundai established a task force, including four designers from Design Innovation Group. In turn, RISD developed a new collaborative research platform created solely for Hyundai. Four faculty members at the world-renowned design school leveraged their expertise to explore study areas, supported by 16 students. Hyundai and RISD kept the participant size small, allowing for close collaboration.

The group examined four distinctive areas of future mobility – graphic design, industrial design, sound design, and textile design.

Graphic Design – Posthuman Mobility: From Molecule to Machine
Faculty lead: Anastasiia Raina, Graphic Design

Hyundai RISD Graphic Design

Responding to the evolving pandemic, this group explored the future of mobility in a microbe-centric world by addressing the relationship between humans and microbes and our need to respond and adapt with agility to the new world around us. The research team developed models for collaboration with nature as an alternative to models inspired by nature. They focused on interspecies collaboration, cyborg nature, and designed nature, such as future mobility hubs and human identification methods utilising augmented reality, virtual reality and machine-learning technologies.

Industrial Design – From Anthropocene to Aerocene through Biocene
Faculty lead: Paolo Cardini, Industrial Design

Hyundai RISD Industrial DesignIn response to the increasing need for sustainable options, this research group explored alternative trajectories for the future of mobility guided by artistic, scientific, and philosophical provocations. The group utilised negative speculative narratives to explore the topic of future cities and environment in the era of UAM. Scenarios such as privacy intrusion and bird strikes were considered.

Sound Design for Mobility
Faculty lead: Shawn Greenlee, Experimental and Foundation Studies

Photo 3_HMG_RISD_Sound DesignDrawing from the fields of bioacoustics and soundscape ecology, and experimentation in RISD’s Spatial Audio Studio, the group developed novel auditory displays and sonic experiences with embeddable computing platforms and procedural audio techniques under a common theme of ‘Making the Un-heard Heard’ in response to the current COVID-19 environment. For example, the group studied alternative ‘noise’ for soundless electric vehicles.

Textile Design for Mobility
Faculty lead: Anna Gitelson-Kahn, Textiles

Photo 4_HMG_RISD_Textile DesignThis research group drew from the fields of bionics and biomimicry in developing innovative textile solutions through speculative approaches and solutions gathered from a case study of cockroach. The structure of cockroach provided insights into the safety of future mobility. Hyundai plans to further incorporate biomimicry methods into its study.


The partnership kicked off with a workshop at RISD’s Edna W Lawrence Nature Lab in February 2020, with students and faculty who came together with a shared understanding that the real-world mobility challenges Hyundai faces present unique opportunities. Students were selected through a highly competitive pool of 108 applicants across 10 departments.

The study moved forward despite the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to Hyundai’s unwavering commitment to explore the future and RISD’s technological resources that allow students and faculty members to collaborate in virtual space.

Hyundai and RISD will continue their partnership, starting with a six-week summer research programme which will focus on lightweight structures and hygiene, inspired by nature. The partners plan to deepen their collaboration and form a more lasting partnership, with the RISD Nature Lab providing the foundation for living systems research.

Photo 6_HMG_RISD_RISD Nature Lab_2

Hyundai’s work with RISD is providing deep insights that will help advance innovations in technology and design, paving the way for next-generation mobility solutions, says Youngcho Chi, Hyundai Motor Group’s President and Chief Innovation Officer. Chi said that through the collaboration, they discovered that they have a similar vision for the future.

SangYup Lee, Senior Vice President and Head of Hyundai Global Design Center, said that by conducting in-depth studies with RISD about how nature copes with change, they expect to gain fresh inspiration that can lead to the development of sustainable processes, next-generation technologies and innovative designs for the future of mobility.

RISD President Rosanne Somerson meanwhile, said that their broader institutional vision – as set forth in RISD’s strategic plan, NEXT: RISD 2020-27 – commits to contributing to new knowledge through innovative curricula, increasing their overall research capacity to support interdisciplinary inquiry and exchange.

This first-of-its-kind research collaboration between RISD and Hyundai brings this commitment to life and supports the notion that, when we combine different bodies of knowledge together in the right environment, true innovation flourishes. 

Hyundai Motor Group has been actively studying nature through various projects, including the recent Hyundai Nature Observation Project by Design Innovation Group.