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What might tomorrow’s electromobility look like? And what role does autonomous driving have to play? A concept car provides a preview of the future.

01/29/2021 Copy: Angus Frazer – Photo: AUDI AG Reading Time: 6 min

Audi AI:CON concept vehicle

To capture and hold the interest of the very best designers and engineers, a company must give its employees freedom – freedom to dream, freedom to push forward, freedom to create the future. Audi has always understood this. The German carmaker believes that attitude is an essential part of it. Audi encourages its employees to let their ideas and visions run free, to break boundaries and to develop solutions that seemed technically impossible.

Future is an attitude

The automotive industry is undergoing a revolution as significant as the transition from horse-drawn cars and carriages to mechanized power at the start of the 20th century. That is why the passion, attitude, and determination of Audi’s designers and engineers are more in demand than ever right now. Inspirational engineering is the key to sustainable mobility via autonomous, connected electric vehicles.

 

The stunning Audi AI:ME1 concept showcases a not-too-distant future where fully autonomous cars will take over driving duties from their occupants. Audi has been among the pioneers in this area for many years: as far back as 2010, an Audi TTS test vehicle1 independently completed the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in Colorado. The car was named “Shelley” in honor of Audi rally star Michèle Mouton, who set a new record on the fearsome hill in an Audi Sport quattro S1 in 1985. A few years after the Audi TTS test vehicle’s triumph, the Audi RS 7 piloted driving1 concept travelled at 240 kmh.

The pulse of autonomous driving

If autonomous vehicles are to be allowed to join traffic in their numbers in a few years’ time, experts believe it could bring about major societal changes. In 2019 Audi surveyed 21,000 people as part of the study “The pulse of autonomous driving.” Participants saw the potential for both the individual and society in the new technology – from easier access to mobility (76 percent) to greater comfort (72 percent) and safety (59 percent).

 

Writing in the foreword of that study, Dr. Luciano Floridi, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the Oxford Internet Institute and Director of the Digital Ethics Lab, University of Oxford, surmised: “A general conclusion that emerges from the survey may be summarized by a single word: variety. The question about the future of autonomous driving is not when or even where, but how it will take place. It will be a matter of what options, choices, and degrees of highly autonomous driving are offered to customers.”

 

Many autonomous vehicles will undoubtedly be soulless “robo-taxis.” Yes, they will transport occupants safely and efficiently, but once the initial novelty of travelling in a driverless car has worn off, they will do little to make the journey feel special.

 

By contrast, the Audi AI:ME1 encapsulates a concept of fully autonomous mobility that, in the future, may offer the potential to go far beyond the notion of mere transport. Audi AI combines vehicle intelligence, which makes automated driving possible in the first place, and interaction intelligence, which turns the vehicle into the occupants’ partner. That is where the name, Audi AI:ME1, comes from, highlighting the personal connection between AI and the vehicle’s occupants. Of course, such technology is not currently available in Audi’s series models, but the Audi AI:ME1 project gives a glimpse of the direction Audi is targeting in the years to come.

On another level

The Audi AI:ME1 concept is designed for what is referred to as level 42 fully autonomous driving. This means that on certain routes the system is fully in control, within its limits. If necessary, it can bring the vehicle to a stop autonomously. If the steering wheel and control elements in the Audi AI:ME1 are not required, the steering wheel is retracted in a beautifully choreographed movement. It is then almost fully concealed by a stowage compartment featuring a walnut surface, providing optimum space for users to relax in the Audi AI:ME’s 1cabin.

 

By comparison, differentiation is made between five different steps on the way to autonomous driving. In assisted driving at level 13, individual assistance systems either provide support in processes such as accelerating and braking or in steering. In partially autonomous driving at level 23, the support goes a step further. Certain functions, affecting both longitudinal and lateral control, can be passed by the driver to complex assistance systems. However, the driver must monitor the process and can step in at any time. This includes a corresponding congestion assistant, which brakes or accelerates up to a certain speed, adjusted to the other vehicles. In highly automated driving (level 3), the driver can temporarily completely give up control in predefined situations. As soon as the technology requests, they must take over the steering wheel again. Potentially, such vehicles will initially be active on highways, and the first concepts for parking garage solutions are also being sounded out.

 

Level 42 includes functionalities comparable to those of the Audi AI:ME1. Then comes the last step: level 52 – autonomous driving. At this stage, the vehicle operates completely without a driver in all situations. With the Audi AI:CON1 concept, Audi has already revealed a vision for a full level 52 autonomous driving car. This luxuriously appointed vehicle represents a future where occupants could be freed entirely from the task of driving, even on journeys of distances up to 700 or 800 kilometers.

Live well on the move

But let’s return to the Audi AI:ME1: Audi’s designers have created a kind of “third living space” in the interior of the concept vehicle – an autonomous, fully connected wellbeing lounge for the major cities of tomorrow. Whether users wish to surf the net, catch up on e-mails, dine, relax, watch a movie, read, or even sleep, the choice is entirely theirs.

 

Thanks to Audi AI, the car is capable of interacting not only with its surroundings, but also its occupants. The Audi AI:ME1 can work out the needs and desires of its passengers through learning effects. For example, even before users realize they are hungry, it suggests ordering food from their favorite restaurant. With the help of eye-tracking, the desired food can be selected from the “wellbeing” menu displayed on a three-dimensional OLED monitor. The AI:ME1 will drive to the restaurant to collect the food, and then magnetically hold the cups and plates in place in the vehicle.

Out of this world

The Audi AI:ME’s1 luxurious cabin represents the perfect place to relax and watch the city glide by in future. And when the desire to completely get away from it all takes over, VR goggles are on hand. They transform surfing the Internet, watching movies, or even participating in interactive gaming into an impressive experience that seems out of this world.

 

When the concept car’s holoride system is activated, the vehicle’s movements are detected by a sensor system and can be integrated seamlessly into the visual core of the game. Suddenly, a feeling of being right at the heart of the action is created – and an autonomous ride across town can become a voyage to a galaxy far, far away.

Audi AI:ME

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