This is how Audi envisions we'll travel within augmented city centers.
There's a big shift underway in the automotive industry. Where automakers have focused until now on selling internal-combustion vehicles you buy and drive, they're now preparing to offer autonomous electric vehicles ordered up on demand that drive themselves.
That requires a substantial rethink on how those vehicles are designed, engineered, and put on the road – and a one-size-fits-all approach isn't going to cut it. Audi knows that at least as well as any other, and has been working on different types of autonomous EVs for different applications. And this is its latest.
Unveiled at the 2019 Shanghai Auto Show this week, the Audi AI:ME concept is about the size of an A3 Sportback (albeit a bit wider and taller). But the AI:ME is a very different vehicle.
The concept is designed from the ground up as an autonomous city car. That means it doesn't need to travel far or very fast, but places its emphasis instead on the interior environment. Though it has four counter-opening doors and a rear bench seat, the focus is on the two front lounge seats and the technology provided to whoever's sitting in them.
As the name suggests, the AI:ME makes use of artificial intelligence – not only in its autonomous operation, but in how the occupants interact with the vehicle. The concept is designed to Level 4 standards, which means it can drive itself within confined and augmented environments (like those envisioned for city centers). So traditional control surfaces move out of the way when the vehicle's driving itself, shifting the focus on the expansive three-dimensional OLED monitor. There's a VR headset on board (like the Holoride system showcased at CES), and the infotainment system makes use of eye tracking, voice input, and touch surfaces.
The big windshield and creased side windows create more interior space. And with illumination of the road taking a figurative back seat, the exterior lighting system is adapted to signal other road users – including pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles. It can even relay signals from vehicles ahead down through the chain of traffic to warn others about approaching dangers up the road.
Because it's designed to operate mostly in the city, the AI:ME concept doesn't need a lot of power: just a single electric motor producing 125 kW (170 horsepower) and a 65-kWh battery to keep it running around town.
The suspension and other components are borrowed from existing compact Audis. It uses a combination of steel, aluminum, and composite materials for the bodywork, and textile upholstery and natural wood trim inside with plenty of storage space. And while the vehicle's designed to be used on demand, customization to individual passengers' requirements is enabled through variables like seat position, ambient lighting, and entertainment preferences.
The AI:ME concept follows the AIcon (designed for longer journeys) shown at Frankfurt in 2017 and the PB 18 (for track days) revealed last summer, with a fourth slated to be revealed at the Frankfurt show this coming September.