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Audi Shows Virtual Dashboard Concept at CES, Launching Within 2 Years

Future Audis will use touchscreens, not click wheels.

Audi’s future infotainment systems will move away from buttons and switches in favor of touchscreens. The Audi Virtual Dashboard, shown at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), places one 14.1-inch display in front of the driver, similar to the Virtual Cockpit used in the Audi R8, TT, Q7, and A4, and then supplements it with a giant touchscreen in the dashboard and another in the lower center stack.

While Audi Virtual Dashboard is only a concept, officials promise it will reach production within one to two years in a high-end model. That could mean it’ll arrive on the production e-tron Quattro electric crossover that’s due in 2018, or maybe the next A8 luxury sedan.

The displays in the Audi Virtual Dashboard concept use AMOLEDs — active-matrix organic light-emitting diode — which consume less energy and have better color contrast than other display types. They also have haptic feedback, so drivers can “feel” when they have touched a virtually rendered button. Audi will also offer voice controls with this system, but the company believes drivers have become accustomed to touchscreens thanks to the widespread adoption of smartphones and tablet computers. The e-tron Quattro concept uses AMOLED displays instead of rearview mirrors, and Audi hints the production version may be the company’s first application of the technology.

With Audi Virtual Dashboard, the upper dashboard display will likely be used for navigation and media controls, while the lower display may operate secondary functions like the climate control. There are no hand-waving gesture controls built in at this time because Audi thinks it’s very easy for drivers to reach the touchscreens. In larger cars, however, an official notes it’s possible that rear-seat passengers might want gesture controls as they won’t be able to reach the screens.

Audi also is considering a technology called Driver Fit that would act as a Fitbit-like wearable device to monitor the driver. Driver Fit would not only evaluate whether a driver was tired or distracted, but it could also track whether he or she was even still sitting close to the steering wheel. With some Audis set to offer semi-autonomous driving technologies that need a human primed to take over in case of emergency, “It is getting more and more important to know what the driver is doing in the car,” says Audi head of driver assistance systems Thomas Müller.

The Audi Virtual Dashboard runs on MIB2+, the next generation of Audi’s infotainment hardware. In addition to the Nvidia Tegra video processing already used in modern Audis, the company has partnered with Qualcomm to use that supplier’s Snapdragon processors. Look for details on when it will hit a production car in the next few years.

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