At Auto Shanghai 2019, Audi is introducing a visionary mobility concept for the megacities of the future. The showcar, known as the Audi AI:ME, offers compact dimensions, a spacious, futuristic interior, and the ability to drive autonomously at level 4.
This allows the occupants to do what they like with their time on board. The Audi AI:ME offers a broad range of high-tech features for communication, entertainment, or simply relaxation.
The body line of the Audi AI:ME demonstrates how emotion and spatial economy can form a perfect synthesis in an electrically driven compact car. There is a reason that the name AI:ME emphasizes the relation to the Audi Alcon, the study of automated long-distance operation introduced in 2017. The affinity of the body line and the concept of these two cars will become evident in Shanghai, as the Alcon will flank the world premiere on the stage of the Audi booth at Auto Shanghai 2019.
With an exterior length of 4.30 metres and a width of 1,90 metres, the Audi AI:ME takes up no more road space than a present-day compact car. However, the wheelbase of 2.77 metres and the height of 1.52 metres indicate interior dimensions that are more likely to be found in the next higher class at least.
This is made possible by the architecture of the electric drive. It allows for short overhangs and a large-volume interior without a propeller shaft tunnel. The drive unit is positioned on the rear axle and mobilises 125 kW (170 metric hp).
For the occupants, the compact drive package offers a maximum amount of objectively available space, spatial comfort, and a great deal of variability. The Audi AI:ME is designed as a 2 plus-x-seater. Its layout relies on a variety of configurations for seat positions and stowage space. While only the individual seats at the front will be used during most journeys, the car offers space for up to four people in the front and on the rear bench if necessary.
Audi AI:ME and Audi AIcon: two concept cars whose very names refer to the new, two-letter abbreviation under which Audi is bundling an entire cluster of innovative mobility technologies. Audi AI is the cipher for a variety of electronic systems that relieve strain on drivers and simultaneously offer them new possibilities to use the time spent in the car. To this end, Audi AI also uses strategies and technologies from the field of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Audi AI also combines vehicle intelligence, which makes automated driving possible in the first place, and interaction intelligence, which turns the vehicle into the occupants’ partner. The name of the Audi AI:ME thus already makes the connection between AI and the users themselves. Audi AI systems are capable of learning and thinking, while also being proactive and personal. Thanks to Audi AI, models bearing the four rings will be both intelligent and empathetic in the future. They will be able to continually interact with their surroundings and passengers, and thus adapt themselves in a better way than ever before to the requirements of those on board.
What is long established in rail transportation and even aviation is at the threshold of a breakthrough in automotive transportation—automated driving. The Audi AI:ME is designed for use in the city and for driving at what is known as level 4. This is the second-highest level on a standardised international scale for increasing automation. Although systems with level 4 do not require any assistance on the part of the driver, their function is limited to a specific area—such as highways or a specially equipped area in inner cities. In these places, the driver can completely transfer the task of driving to the system. The driver needs to resume the task only when the car leaves the area defined for fully automated driving. By contrast to the Audi Alcon, a vehicle with level-5 function that is always fully autonomous, the Audi AI:ME is therefore equipped with the traditional steering wheel and pedal control elements in addition.
This means that the car, as well as the remaining road users, will drive automatically in a defined traffic area equipped with the corresponding infrastructure in the future. Self-regulating and self-controlling flows of traffic allow the vehicle to glide along calmly, avoiding heavy longitudinal or lateral acceleration. This is an important requirement for the occupants of the car to be able to detach themselves mentally from the traffic around them.
Audi AI fundamentally changes how cars are used and significantly enhances the time spent on board. The car is increasingly becoming a “third living space” alongside our homes and workplaces. It is thus only consistent that the Audi designers did not subordinate the interior of the Audi AI:ME to the shape of the body. On the contrary. They prioritised the interior and made it the core of the whole vehicle. The focus here is less on the traditional connection between driver and vehicle—steering wheel, instruments, pedals—and more on the time spent in the automated vehicle. This is why these control elements are retracted with an elegant and sophisticated choreography and are then almost fully concealed by a stowage compartment with a surface made of open-pore walnut wood.
In general: Stowage space will become more important than before in automated vehicles. The Audi AI:ME features large areas both on the cockpit cover and between the front seats that conceal a further innovative detail: Magnets serve as cup holders and hold metal cups or plates in place as required. Occupants can enjoy a relaxed meal while riding in the automated Audi AI:ME.
No matter what they are doing, the passengers can always find a comfortable seating position. The front seats are inspired by the classic lounge chair and feature a wide, comfortably cushioned seat, upholstered with textile material in warm shades of grey. The backrests are designed as curved shells that are attached to the seat cushion only with a vertical carrier. When the pedal set is not needed, drivers can rest their feet on the supports under the dashboard, such as on an ottoman. On the rear bench, which reaches around to the side sections of the car, occupants can vary their seating position almost any way they like.
The horizontal angle in the deep window in the interior is a significant element of the side section—a feature inspired by the Audi AIcon. It offers an obvious ergonomic advantage to the occupants: It extends the range of motion of the arm resting on the door rail and also visually increases the size of the entire interior to a significant degree.
The vehicle and the communication and interaction systems are operated by means of eye tracking, voice input, and touch-sensitive fields in the door rail. They are positioned perfectly in terms of ergonomics and are normally integrated into the surface, making them invisible. The lighting is activated only when approached, and guides the user’s gaze to the functional surfaces.
There is a multifunctional, three-dimensional OLED monitor that runs below and along the entire length of the windscreen and is used primarily in dialogue with eye-tracking control. Terminologically coded function menus, for example for navigation or infotainment, can be activated with the eye and then open up further levels that move from the background into the sharp view mode on the 3D monitor.
There are VR goggles on board for the visual output of the infotainment system. They turn Internet use, watching movies, or even interactive gaming into a fascinating experience for the passengers. Audi demonstrated the possibilities that await us in the future with the Holoride system at the CES 2019 in Las Vegas. Here, the vehicle’s own movement is detected by a sensor system and then integrated interactively into the visual course of a game. Passengers feel like they are literally in the midst of the action.
The occupants experience the interior of the Audi AI:ME not simply as a means of transport, but as a luxurious atmosphere with numerous high-tech features. It also literally acts as a filter that keeps out the omnipresent traffic all around. The high-quality audio system is coupled with noise compensation that can completely suppress the outside noise level by means of active noise control. This allows occupants to enjoy meditative silence or listen to music in concert-hall quality in the Audi AI:ME.
Surfaces and structures that are familiar from the home environment dominate even in terms of the materials. High-quality textiles, some of which are made of recycled products, wood, and the touchpads in the door rails made of the mineral composite material Corian, which is particularly pleasant to touch, give the predominantly technical character of the vehicle a cozy and luxurious touch. The interior gets its special ambiance from the tension between the natural and technological elements. Large glass surfaces in the deep windows and the roof area make the interior light and transparent. Electro-chromatic control can insulate the entry of light and heat if necessary, and shield the interior with the continuously tintable windows. Filigree wooden struts in the roof area create a pergola above the interior.
The use of real plants in the interior of the automobile is a first. Vegetation, which is rarely found in the hostile city environment, gives occupants a feeling of proximity to nature and helps to objectively improve air quality in the automobile at the same time. Sophisticated filter technology prevents odours from traffic and the city from entering into the interior of the Audi AI:ME in the first place.
Systems that determine the stress levels for vital parameters also serve the wellbeing of the occupants. Intelligent algorithms allow the Audi AI:ME to get to know the driver better and better and improve their options in a specific manner.
The Audi AI:ME is immediately recognisable even in the rearview mirror: Its face is characterised by the hexagonal Singleframe with the inverted shape and surface typical for an electric Audi. The architecture of the body is a newcomer to the pool of Audi shapes. If you look closer, though, the relation to the Audi AIcon concept car introduced in 2017 becomes apparent. Despite the completely different proportions, there are clear similarities in the precise graphics of the contours and the long arch of the roof line. But the main connection between the two different autonomous vehicles is the significant angle in the side windows.
The exterior differs strongly from the mainstream competition. The Audi AI:ME is a targeted alternative design. More than just a hint of a wedge shape, the accentuated and drawn out wheel wells that are typical for the brand and the striking window graphics create a highly emotional overall shape. The traffic area is clearly subordinate to the small space requirement: With an exterior length of 4.30 metres and a width of 1.90 metres, the vehicle fits into the compact car segment. Its height of 1.52 metres offers great advantages in the interior in particular, and gives occupants a sense of ample space, makes it easy to get in, and offers excellent headroom. The large side doors that open in opposite directions and are fastened at the front and back also facilitate getting into the vehicle. And yet, the Audi AI:ME does not appear as a cubic van, but exudes dynamism even at a standstill. Large 23-inch wheels emphasize this appearance.