Frankfurt Motor Show - Look ma, no steering wheel or pedals. Audi revealed a peek into an autonomous-driving future on the eve of the 2017 Frankfurt motor show with its Aicon luxury concept car, which completely removes humans from the driving equation.
The spectacular-looking four-door 2+2 electric car is a technology demonstrator that "combines innovations relating to the drivetrain, suspension, digitalization and sustainability in a visionary manner" according to the German automaker.
In contrast to a run-of-the-mill robot taxi, says Audi, the Aicon pulls out all the stops to lay on the luxurious ambiance of a first-class airline cabin; the space normally reserved for a steering wheel and pedals is used to ensure maximum passenger comfort while the self-driving car whisks you to work or the golf course.
And it's a lot of space we're talking about. With an exterior length of 5.44 metres the Aicon substantially outsizes even the A8 sedan, while its large windows, a transparent roof and low waist line emphasize the feeling of spaciousness. The variable transparency glass roof panels can block out the sunlight if needed.
The four passengers sit in comfortable lounge chairs that don’t slide on rails, but rather on a carpet-covered platform that can be moved longitudinally. The platform height is variable so that it can also be used as leg rest. The individual seats can also be swiveled by up to 15 degrees so they can be turned outward to make it simpler for passengers to get in, or turned inward to make it easier for passengers to socialise.
In the place of steering wheel, pedals, groups of buttons and instruments are wide uninterrupted surfaces. A generous shelf and a central display below the windshield replaces the dashboard.
The interior comes to life once passengers enter by means of illuminated lines of LEDs in the doors, while the front display lights up with a welcome message. PIA, the electronic vehicle assistant, recognizes the passenger by their phone and activates all of their personal settings.
There are multiple input modes for engaging with the car including a touchscreen, voice control and eye tracking. In the latter system, sensors in the front end of the interior track where the passenger is looking. The passenger locks their eyes onto a control element to select it and performs fine adjustments using their hand or voice.
Thanks to the space-saving design of the electric drive, there is a storage compartment at both ends of the vehicle with a combined capacity of roughly 660 litres.
The car's impressive exterior presence is enhanced by giant 26-inch wheels placed as far outward as possible in strongly flared wheel arches emphasizing Audi’s quattro DNA.
The eyes have it
Conventional headlights at both the front and rear of the car are replaced by fully digital display surfaces comprising hundreds of triangular pixel segments. They are three-dimensional recreations of the AI symbol which serves as a prefix in the Aicon badge. The lights look like eyes and can be expanded to resemble wide pupils or squinted for an aggressive look. If the car detects passers-by or other road users, follows them with its “eyes”, which sounds a little creepy.
Continuing the high-tech lighting technology, the Audi Aicon projects high resolution signals onto the road, enabling it to communicate warnings and vehicle information to passers-by with no direct line of sight to the car. Doing away with long-range headlights, the laser and radar sensor system “sees” in the dark and can detect obstacles in good time.
When passengers exit the Audi Aicon in the dark, a “light companion” is activated: A mini-drone with a torch safely illuminates the user’s walking path.
The car's powered by four electric motors producing combined outputs of 260kW and 550Nm. Each motor drives one wheel, enabling electronically controlled, variable quattro all-wheel drive. The car should be able to cover between 700 and 800 kilometres on a single charge, and adaptive air suspension ensures a cushy ride.