Two years ago — at the last biennial Frankfurt Motor Show — Audi introduced what would become the first in a series of futuristic concept vehicles that carry the AI name. AI stands for Audi Intelligence, and the designation tied together four concepts on display at the 2019 Frankfurt show during press preview days. This included the latest and final member of the group, the AI:TRAIL. With this concept, Audi completes a family of advanced vehicles that represent luxury, performance, city driving and now off-road adventure.
Something for Everybody
“In the classical product portfolio, the vehicles often need to accommodate many different needs, which causes compromises. We took a radical approach with these show cars and designed user-centered vehicles for individual needs. And we always keep our goal in mind: to give the customer more freedom and space,” said Claus Potthoff, head of design strategy at Audi. Having the opportunity to experience all four vehicles at once helps with cohesion, so take a quick look at the AI family of vehicles from Audi.
The AI:CON was the first of the four AI vehicles to be introduced, debuting at the Frankfurt show two years ago. The AI:CON is an example of Level 5 Full Automation, which means it has no steering wheel or pedals — all driver controls are eliminated. When a passenger enters the vehicle, LED accents illuminate, a Personal Intelligent Assistant recognizes the passenger and activates all personal settings with a full range of communications and electronics.
Living Room Interior
Access to the AI:CON cabin is through opposed doors that open toward either end of the vehicle, with no B-pillar between, for easy entry. Two individual seats up front swivel up to 15 degrees for ease of entry or to turn toward conversations. Handy storage spaces reside at both the front and the rear of the AI:CON due to the packaging of the electric-drive system. Seats can slide nearly twenty inches on a raised platform, with a fixed bench seat for two additional passengers.
The AI:CON is fully electric with two motors on each axle, providing quattro all-wheel drive — this is an Audi after all. With the efficient electric powertrain and use of lightweight materials in the AI:CON construction, Audi expects this vehicle would have a range as high as 500 miles on a single charge. With a high-voltage electrical system, the battery would be able to reach 80 percent charge in a mere 30 minutes.
Ready for a Journey
Ultimately the AI:CON is designed to be able to arrive when needed and transport its passengers in the utmost comfort to their destination in complete autonomy. With plenty of room for luggage and comfortable surroundings with a plethora of entertainment options, the AI:CON could be used for short trips or a long-distance journey.
At last year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Audi debuted a vehicle called the PB 18 e-tron. This car has now joined the AI family as the AI:RACE. Like the AI:CON, the AI:RACE is fully electric, but it is designed for performance driving — and it does have a steering wheel.
Where power and acceleration were not so important for the AI:CON, these are certainly important factors when talking about performance. The AI:RACE is powered by three electric motors with quattro all-wheel drive. One electric motor powers the front wheels, while the other two are located at the rear with one motor powering each wheel. Up to 200 horsepower is delivered to the front wheels and more than 600 horses are sent to the rear, with a total system output of 670 horsepower and 612 lb-ft of total combined torque. Audi claims this is enough to send this sleek sports car to 60 mph in around two seconds.
While performance is important, so is efficiency. The AI:RACE features a liquid-cooled solid-state battery that can provide a range of over 310 miles. With the 800 volt charging system, the battery can be completely recharged in 15 minutes. Charging is also possible via induction — a charging pad gets placed on the ground beneath the car wherever it parks, providing power without a physical connection.
Central Driving Position
One of the most unique aspects of the AI:RACE is its central driving position — for performance driving, the pilot sits in the center of the car for better weight distribution and visibility. But in the AI:RACE, the driver’s seat and all necessary driving controls can be moved to the left to create room for a passenger in a second seat located close to the ground.
Gael Buzyn, head of the Audi Design Loft in Malibu, California (where the Audi AI:RACE was created) said, “We want to offer the driver an experience that is otherwise available only in a racing car like the Audi R18. That’s why we developed the interior around the ideal driver’s position in the center. Nevertheless, our aim was to also give the AI:RACE a high degree of everyday usability, not just for the driver, but also for a potential passenger,” Buzyn noted.
This small city car was planned for both autonomous and manual driving, allowing the driver to decide which is more advantageous depending on the conditions. No matter how it operates the AI:ME is designed to provide an area of calm away from the bustle of the city. Appropriately, this concept was introduced earlier this year in one of the busier cities in the world — Shanghai, China.
Live Plants Inside
Interior design was more important than the exterior styling for the AI:ME, according to Audi designer James Nissen. “We want to provide solutions to our customers’ needs,” explained Nissen. “We create a feel-good atmosphere by appealing to all of the users’ senses,” Nissen observed. The AI:ME immediately recognizes the driver and sets temperature, ambient lighting and seating position. There are even live plants that climb across the see-thru roof to “bring a bit of nature into the big city,” Nissen mused. As an added bonus, they improve air quality.
Autonomous or Not
The idea behind the AI:ME is that the driver can enjoy taking control of the wheel when simply cruising around town, but when traffic is bad or the driver has other things to attend to, the car can simply be switched to autonomous mode. With this, the steering wheel folds down and a table folds out.
With vehicles in the AI family that can provide long-distance travel, city driving and fun at the track, the last entry heads off into nature. The AI:TRAIL debuted at the 2019 Frankfurt show and is designed for those who want to enjoy the great outdoors.
AI:TRAIL is fully electric and designed to handle rough terrain with enough battery life to venture far from civilization. Unlike previous AI models, the AI:TRAIL doesn’t carry big screen displays for entertainment — its intention encourages occupants to enjoy the natural surroundings wherever the Trail takes them. Sporting massive22-inch wheels, the AI:TRAIL is built for heading off the beaten path. Ground clearance is a very high 13.4 inches, and the AI:TRAIL can even ford 1.6 feet of water.
Enjoying the Scenery
Like the AI:ME, the AI:TRAIL can be driven or be set in self-driving mode, allowing passengers to relax and enjoy the scenery. Large windows all around give the occupants a great view of the surroundings with glass roof as well as additional glass below the windshield that provides a better preview of upcoming terrain.
Operating controls are quite simple — aside from the steering wheel and pedals, a docked smartphone is the primary interface. Seats are also simple: front occupants sit on slim but supportive seats, while rear passengers enjoy seats designed as hammocks.
Unique Lighting System
The AI:TRAIL has a unique lighting system — rather than employing conventional headlights, the AI:TRAIL carries a series of highly-efficient drones with matrix LED lighting. These can attach themselves to the vehicle or fly ahead to light the path. The drones also transmit video back to the cabin.
Not Ready for Prime Time
None of the four Audi AI vehicles could hit the road today — the technology simply isn’t ready for public consumption at this time. But these do provide a glimpse into Audi’s view of future mobility, providing solutions for a variety of needs. As auto enthusiasts, we’re happy that some of these futuristic vehicles still possess steering wheels.