Audi has put artificial intelligence in the spotlight with its new flagship production car, the the A8, but its new concept car takes things a step further. Launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the Aicon provides a peek at how Audi envisages the self-driving luxury sedan of the future.
On the surface, the autonomous Audi of the future is seriously big. At 17.9 ft (5.44 m) long and 6.9 ft (2.1 m) wide, it's actually 9.4 in (24 cm) longer than a long-wheelbase A8. Riding on a set of 26-inch wheels, it certainly doesn't lack presence. As is often the case with self-driving concepts, the windows and windscreen are massive to bathe the cabin with light.
The wheelarches are aggressively flared around those monstrous wheels, and the line running along the side of the car is meant to make it look long and taut. At the front, headlights have been subbed out for a large field of triangular pixels capable of making almost any shape. The car has been photographed with the lights in a fairly conventional pattern, but Audi says the technology could be used to communicate with pedestrians.
The exterior is cool, but the focus of any self-driving concept is the interior. It's accessed through a set of suicide doors, which work with the B-pillar-free design to make ingress and egress easier. Rather than conventional seating, the driver and passenger seats have been replaced with two armchairs on platforms. When they're slid all the way back in the cabin, the car is essentially a two-seater, while sliding them forward makes room for two more passengers.
Both the cushion and backrest can be tilted to essentially any position, and the seats all swivel to make conversation easier. Alternatively, you can passive-aggressively turn away from your partner without craning your neck while riding in self-driving comfort.
All the uninterrupted, clean surfaces in the interior turn into display surfaces. LED lighting sets the mood, and an intelligent assistant (dubbed PIA) recognizes the driver when their phone connects. Everything from the seats to the air conditioning changes automatically, something Tesla has tried to do with its driver profiles. The whole interior is controlled with haptic and touch-sensitive controls, although Audi suggests the PIA assistant could also handle most functions.
Passengers are able to browse the internet or watch a movie when they want to relax, or use the car as a mobile office. With the roof blacked out and mood lighting set to a calming color, you could even settle in for a nap.
Under the skin, the Aicon is home to an electric all-wheel drive powertrain with 260 kW (349 hp) of power and 550 Nm (406 lb-ft) of torque. Audi hasn't bothered trying to make it accelerate like crazy, instead focusing on eking as many miles from the battery as possible. It appears to have worked, too – the car has a claimed range of between 700 and 800 km (435 and 497 mi). Thank the light, aerodynamic body for that.
A high-voltage fast-charging system can fill the car to 80 percent charge in less than half an hour, and wireless charging capability is built in. Given it has a smart AI brain at the core, the car can drive to a charge station without any passengers on board, which means your self-driving chariot should never go flat with a full load of people on board.
The Aicon is on display at the Frankfurt Motor Show, where New Atlas is on the ground covering all the action.