It’s not yet clear what the future of driving will look like. Self-driving cars may well be to our generation what flying cars were to the drivers of the 1960s: a seemingly imminent development, if only we can solve a few unknowns. But automated vehicles may also be just around the corner. If they are indeed coming soon, the Audi AI.ME concept offers what may be the most realistic look at that future yet.
Building on sound fundamentals for any vehicle of the urban tomorrow—self-driving or not—the AI:ME is compact and all-electric. Just 169.0 inches long and 74.8 inches wide, the AI:ME is plenty parkable, yet its stretched 109.0-inch wheelbase and 59.8-inch height mean more cabin space for the “2+X” passenger layout.
Wait, what’s a 2+X layout? It means the cabin can be reconfigured for various uses, such flexibility being key to the future self-driving, artificial-intelligence-infused transport pods. The car is being reimagined as an extension of our living and working spaces, essentially a room on wheels. That means the seating can be rearranged, allowing for more room to stretch out and rest, more desk-like space for productivity, or even more space for cargo for those big shopping trips. Magnetic cup and plate holders even allow occupants to enjoy meals on the go.
As a Level 4 self-driving car, the AI:ME will retain its steering wheel and pedals, unlike the Level 5 self-driving Audi AIcon concept. That means the future imagined by the AI:ME might not be utterly dystopian for drivers who still hope to have a hands-on link to their cars, even if the wheel and pedals will still spend most of their time tucked out of sight.
So how will the users interact with the AI:ME if they’re not cocooned in the typical forward-facing driver/passenger roles of today? They’ll use their voices, eye-tracking tech, hands, and VR, of course. Smart surfaces light when the car senses you want to interact with them, disappearing into the background when not needed. A three-dimensional OLED display spanning the width of the dash below the windshield gives contextual information, controlled by the driver’s eyes through tracking technology. The VR goggles enable internet access, entertainment display, and more.
There are even plants inside the AI:ME, and not just their derivatives. That’s right, there are plants are growing along the headliner, aiming to give “occupants a feeling of proximity to nature” and “objectively improve air quality.”
For those outside the AI:ME, a set of LED light matrices are visible from any point on the vehicle’s periphery and help not only illuminate the car and the environment, but also signal to other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists the car’s intentions. The front LED units can even function as micro projectors, splashing symbols onto the road or a nearby wall, for instance, to let pedestrians know it’s safe to cross the car’s path.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the AI:ME’s vision of the future is the most practical aspect. Because the AI:ME is expected to spend the vast majority of its time driving between 12 and 45 mph and will need to be able to operate for hours between charges—meaning it likely won’t need long-distance range at highway speeds—the engineers at Audi have specified a solution that balances weight against energy storage. That means the AI:ME only needs a 65-kWh battery pack and a 167-hp synchronous permanent-magnet electric motor mounted on the rear axle, making for a lighter, less expensive total package. While we won’t likely ever be ready to give up the steering wheel completely, a pod like this one is welcome to negotiate stop-and-go commutes on our behalf.