Audi is using the Frankfurt Motor Show to put self-driving tech in the spotlight, with both concept and production cars. Along with the fully-autonomous Aicon, the automaker unveiled the oddly-named (but sharply-styled) Elaine, a concept SUV capable of swapping between autonomous and human-driven modes.
Eagle-eyed readers will recognize the Elaine from the Shanghai Auto Show, where it was released as the e-tron Sportback. The car on show in Frankfurt differs from the Chinese concept in a few ways, most of them found under the skin. To start with, it has a much smarter zFAS controller – the control unit responsible for managing the self-driving systems – installed.
It also has a faster processor and a more advanced sensor array, both of which allow for autonomous driving between 60 and 130 km/h (37 to 81 mph) on the highway. Audi says this capability is an extension of the traffic jam pilot system in the current A8. The car will automatically change lanes to overtake, too, unlike current semi-autonomous cars, which force the driver to initiate the maneuver.
Central to this vision for our self-driving future is communication between infrastructure and the car. Audi suggests owners could leave the car in a designated "handover zone" when they get close to their destination. Having unloaded the driver, the car communicates with its surroundings and finds a parking spot, charging station or car wash all by itself. When the driver comes back, the car will cruise to the "handover zone" to collect them.
While we're talking about technology designed to make the driver's life easier, it's worth talking about PIA, or personal intelligent assistant. Audi says it combines information from the driver with traffic reports and live internet updates to tailor the content displayed in the cabin. That means it can suggest entertainment options, find parking spaces, or keep a comfortable gap to the car in front based on the driver's past behavior. This data is all stored remotely, so drivers can transfer their profile from car to car.
If the driver is willing to wear a fitness tracker, the car can accurately keep track of how tired or stressed they are. The in-cabin display can guide the driver in breathing exercises, and the seats can be configured to massage passengers to the beat of music. If you're anything like me, both of those things sound incredibly annoying, and are more likely to raise your heart rate than lower it.
Under the skin, power comes from a 320-kW (429-hp) electric powertrain good for a 63 mph (100 km/h) sprint of 4.5 seconds. The underfloor 95-kWh battery is good for a 500-km (311-mi) range on the New European Drive Cycle, and can be charged wirelessly. A 150-kW fast charger is also part of the concept.
The Elaine concept is on display at the Frankfurt Motor Show, where New Atlas is on the ground covering all the action. Stay tuned for the latest.