Frankfurt Motor Show - Though this car debuted a few months ago as an exterior only design study called the e-tron Sportback, Audi has used this week’s show to re-launch the concept with a new name, and open the doors to fully show off its abundance of tech.
Like the Aicon concept which is parked alongside it at the show, this car, called the Elaine, cleverly incorporates the letters “AI” into its name to express a host of onboard Artificial Intelligence features. Obviously most of these are in concept phase but Audi says it’ll take only a few years before much of it is available in road-ready production models. Some of it will probably see the real word sooner than that.
For example, the traffic jam pilot function in the recently-launched A8 flagship allows for hands-free driving in certain situations at speed up to 60km/h, but an advanced new computer system in the Elaine uses much more precise sensors than used currently to extend autonomous driving at speeds up to 130km/h. This new computer, which Audi calls zFAS, can also read traffic at these high speeds and initiate lane changes and overtaking manoeuvres without any intervention from a driver.
Artificial intelligence helps to make life easier in an urban setting too. Upon entry to what Audi calls an AI Zone, the Elaine can be handed over to a virtual valet parking attendant. Once in the so-called “Zone”, a driver can hop out and continue a journey on foot while the car navigates by itself to empty parking spots, refuelling points or carwashes. The driver then uses a smartphone app to recall the car when he or she is ready to hit the road again.
There’s also a butler service called PIA (personal intelligent assistant) which can learn an owner’s behaviour patterns and automatically set surroundings to make trips more comfortable. Using data collected from the car, driver, internet and traffic reports, Elaine can suggest music, climate settings, travel routes and parking locations. PIA also responds to voice inputs, so a driver can theoretically request Mexican takeaways and the car will find the nearest restaurant, place an order, drive itself there and then find a convenient place to park while the driver sits back and listens to La Bamba.
A smart bracelet worn by an owner can communicate vital signs such as body temperature and heart rate, and if Elaine thinks you’re too stressed she’ll guide you through breathing exercises, activate seat massagers and play some relaxing Norah Jones ballades to calm you down. Audi says a driver should be more relaxed when getting out of a car than when they got in.
Elaine is fully electric and gets quattro drive from three electric motors - two at the rear axle and one at the front. A 95kw/h battery means a range in excess of 500km says Audi, while an output of 320kW (or 370 in boost mode) means 0-100km/h takes only 4.5 seconds. Recharging happens by way of regular 150kW fast-charge plug points, or by parking on top of a wireless conductor.