Audi showed of several technologies that will soon appear in production cars, including updates to the company's MMI infotainment system and new head- and taillight designs.
MMI Navigation Plus, MMI Touch
The next generation of Audi's MMI infotainment system gains two primary features. Navigation Plus adds on the already existing Google Earth satellite imagery with Google Street View photos. The driver can "see" his or her destination ahead of time. On top of that, the latest version of Audi connect can retrieve information like concert times, sports times, and train or airplane schedules for the chosen destination. Plus the system can read Twitter posts, text messages, emails, and Facebook alerts from the driver's smartphone.
These systems will debut alongside a new version of MMI Touch in the 2014 Audi A3. The updated MMI Touch uses a rotary knob to control input on the display: users rotate to scroll through menus and push to select an item. The top, however, is touch-sensitive and can be used to "draw" letters and numbers. MMI Touch is already offered on some Audi models including the A6, A7, and A8, but it uses a separate touchpad and rotary controller. Audi says the new layout is more ergonomic and allows drivers to operate all the system's features without moving their hand.
The A3 will also get a new 3D display for MMI. It's just 0.43-inch thick and, thanks to the use of magnesium, the entire assembly only weighs 0.11 pounds. Special lenses on the display create discrete images for the driver's left and right eyes, while a camera automatically adjust the display so the "perfect" 3D image is always shown.
Within the next year, Audi also plans to upgrade all its cars to LTE wireless communications. That should allow data download -- for things like the aforementioned Navigation Plus features -- as much as five times faster than the 3G phone connection currently used in Audis.
Audi of America president Scott Keogh says these sorts of infotainment features are essential to keeping the brand in the public eye. "New luxury, or Audi luxury, involves hanging out on the cutting edge," he said at a press conference today. Keogh said that there are currently 50,000 active Audi Connect users in the U.S. -- and collectively, they have downloaded more data through Audi Connect than is stored in the Library of Congress.
Matrix LED Headlights, Laser Taillights
Audi already offers LED running lights and headlights, but now the company plans to take that idea one step further. Matrix LED headlights use a large number of small LEDs that can be turned off or dimmed individually. This allows a computer to focus light only in specific areas, without using reflectors or mirrors. The main idea is for a camera to determine whether other vehicles are approaching and automatically dim the light in certain areas so oncoming drivers aren't dazzled. So while drivers aren't blinded, other segments of the "Matrix Beam" can continue to illuminate the roadway. The adjustable headlights also use input from the navigation system to determine when the car is approaching a corner, pointing light around the curve before the driver turns the steering wheel.
Ricky Hudi, Audi electronics chief, calls it, "a high-beam headlight you can drive with all the time, without blinding anyone." Hudi says LED Matrix should hit the market this year -- but he wouldn't say on which vehicles.Out back, meanwhile, Audi is pioneering a special laser system designed to help following drivers keep a safe distance. Normally, the laser projects fan-shaped red lines on the road so that other cars can tell how far to stay behind an Audi so-equipped. In rain, mist, or fog, the laser reflects off water droplets and other drives will see a red warning triangle outline behind the Audi.