April 17, 2019

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 emphasises the relation to the Audi AIcon, 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 AIcon will flank the world premiere on the stage of the Audi booth at Auto Shanghai 2019.

Compact architecture, electric drive: The concept

With an exterior length of 4.30 meters and a width of 1.90 meters, the Audi AI:ME takes up as much traffic space as a present-day compact car. However, the wheelbase of 2.77 meters and the height of 1.52 meters 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.

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.

Automated driving at level 4: Relax while gliding through the city

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 AIcon, a vehicle with level-5 function that is always fully autonomous, the Audi AI:ME is therefore equipped with the traditional steering wheel and pedalry 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.

Luxurious refuge and high-tech control center: the interior

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Audi AI fundamentally changes how automobiles 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.

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 pedalry 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 vehicle and as 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 windshield 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.

A face in the crowd: the exterior

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 meters and a width of 1.90 meters, the vehicle fits into the compact car segment. Its height of 1.52 meters 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 emphasise this appearance.

See and be seen—the lighting

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With the self-driving cars of the future, headlights will have a part-time job at best because the driver will be concerned with other things most of the time and will rarely need the road to be brightly illuminated. It is another function of the lighting that takes on a more important role here: communicating with other road users. The Audi AIcon already demonstrated how digital matrix luminous surfaces can use moving graphics to output clearly understandable signals relating to the driving condition and, of course, also to mark the vehicle itself.

The Audi AI:ME takes this approach one step further: As road users come even closer in the city, the traditional positions of the front and rear lights are often not visible. Because of this, Audi lighting designers integrated LED elements in the body in an unusually high position above the wheel wells, where they are visible from all angles. This 360-degree communication is an important additional safety feature for pedestrians or cyclists.

Like in the AIcon, the LED units at the front and the micro matrix projectors can use easily identifiable symbols to signal to pedestrians when the AI:ME is letting them cross the road, for example. The graphics can be projected onto the road or a wall. This function is also used to illuminate the door area to ensure that occupants can enter or exit the vehicle safely and also to mark the vehicle for other road users. The matrix projectors can also provide additional safety to other road users with weaker lighting by automatically illuminating their surroundings.

The Audi AI:ME features a further innovation: It can interpret signals from other vehicles and use its own lighting technology to amplify them if this benefits the surroundings. Example: A vehicle driving in front indicates danger with faint hazard warning flashers. The AI:ME can detect this signal and amplify it with projections and the LED units on the body so that it is clearly visible to all road users.

As a level 4 vehicle, the Audi AI:ME is equipped with bright LED headlights and perfectly visible brake and tail lights for all those situations in which drivers take the wheel themselves. When driving actively, being able to see is just as important by night as it is by day in the future, too.