Audi AI:ME concept begins to flesh out future autonomous EV landscape

16 April 2019 - Autoblog

Audi AI:ME concept begins to flesh out future autonomous EV landscape

Third in a quartet of self-driving use cases serves megacity dwellers

First came the Audi AIcon concept in 2017, a Level 5 autonomous EV luxury sedan with a 500-mile range. Last year came the PB 18 E-Tron concept, a one- or two-seater track-day EV sports car. Auto Shanghai introduces the AI:ME concept, a compact urban getabout with Level 4 autonomy and a lounge mixes the Eameses with the Jetsons. Taken together, the trio represent three of four Audi concepts that break our future mobility landscape into clear use cases, the AI:ME serving visitors to and residents of "the megacities of the future."

While Audi makes the understandable point of tying the AI:ME's design to the AIcon, we think the AI:ME slots in perfectly as the visionary successor to the Luc Donckerwolke-designed A2 compact that Audi made from 1999 to 2005. The AI:ME is 14.1 feet long, 6.2 feet wide, 5 feet high, on a 9-foot wheelbase. The erstwhile A2 was 12.5 feet long, 5.5 feet wide, 5.1 feet high, on a 7.9-foot wheelbase. That's a natural growth in dimension, and the AI:ME even has an updated take on the A2's funky angled backlight and spoiler.

Otherwise, and as with the Volvo 360c concept, the AI:ME tweaks the model we're coming to expect for self-driving urban lounges. The steel, aluminum, and plastic body holds weight down, an adaptive suspension works 23-inch wheels to maintain occupant comfort on megacity roads. The inverted Singleframe grille identifies the AI:ME as an electric Audi, the LED micro matrix projector lights in front can identify the concept's intentions for pedestrians. Other high-mounted LED light elements around the vehicle ensure everyone at a distance can see what the AI:ME is doing. The compact four-door is also able to use its illumination to amplify hazard and warning signals from nearby vehicles.

A 65-kWh battery powers a single 168-horsepower motor on the rear axle. Audi doesn't mention range, perhaps rightly expecting the battery capacity, low urban speeds and energy-regenerating traffic patterns to serve up ample miles for a day's journeying.

The real point of the AI:ME is for occupants to enjoy that journeying. As a Level 4 autonomous vehicle, the AI:ME has steering wheels and pedals, but the driving controls retract "with sophisticated choreography" behind open-pore walnut furniture when not needed. The "2 plus-x-seater" configuration comes standard with two lounge seats in front, but can be ordered with a curving back bench to serve two more people.

Control of the various communication and entertainment options happens via touchpads in the door rail, a 3D OLED monitor spanning the instrument that obeys eye movements, and voice. Virtual reality goggles pipe in more interactive options with the Holoride system Audi showed off at this year's Consumer Electronics Show. Fully tint-able windows and active noise cancellation eliminate the outside world if desired, otherwise the massive glass acreage fills the cabin with light — good for the AI:ME's ancient analogue touch, real plants inside the cockpit.

The "AI" in the concept names refers to the vehicle learning how to navigate its environment as well as its owner. Audi envisions something like a subscription model or entirely on demand, however, with megacity residents able to customize the AI:ME as they wish, but not need to park it; the car can return to a depot when finished with its day's work. The AI:ME will then meet the customer at the appointed place and time the following day to resume duties.

The fourth "vision vehicle' will debut during this year's Frankfurt Motor Show. Having seen a sports sedan, sports car, and city car already, all that's left are the extreme ends. We'll wager on an even smaller, personal mobility offering or something SUV-ish to strike the final note.

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