With autonomous cars to appear in showrooms by the next decade, the carmakers are busy developing preview models of what we can expect. It will be a new era of motoring as ‘driving’ will no longer be necessary and the car will also emit zero emissions as it will run on electricity.
The Audi Aicon shows what the future car could be like as the technology demonstrator combines innovations relating to the drivetrain, suspension, digitalization and sustainability in a visionary manner.
The Aicon exploits every possibility offered by an autonomous luxury sedan of the future with unprecedented consistency. As a design study, the 4-door 2+2 boldly leaps ahead to show the exterior and interior design of the next decades.
And as a mobility concept, the Aicon shows the world of tomorrow, in which the advantages of door-to-door individual transportation are combined with the luxurious ambience of a first-class airline cabin. A cabin with no steering wheel or pedals that can thus offer all the comforts of modern communications electronics and perfect ergonomics.
In contrast to a robot taxi, which is reduced to pure functionality, the autonomous Aicon concept has a presence that would be impossible to ignore. Its exterior hints at the spacious comfort afforded the passengers and the upscale technical aspirations. Its sheer size – an exterior length of 5444 mm, width of 2100 mm and height of 1506 mm – places it in the automotive top tier, the D segment. The wheelbase stretches across 3470 mm which is 240 mm more than with the long-wheelbase version of the new A8.
Conventional headlights and lighting units are absent from both the front and rear of this car. Instead, there are fully digital display surfaces comprising hundreds of triangular pixel segments. They are three-dimensional recreations of the Audi AI symbol.
Grouped around the Singleframe are large light fields, in which – as at the rear – more than 600 3D pixels are arranged in space. The large surfaces and high pixel count enable versatile graphics, animations and information visualizations in any colour. The Aicon is thus no longer bound to a daytime running lights look, but rather can adapt to the driving situation and even its passengers.
Horizontally-cut lighting segments to the left and right of the Singleframe look like eyes and can be expanded to resemble wide pupils or squinted for an aggressive look. If the car detects passers-by or other road users, it literally makes eye contact with them and follows them with its ‘eyes’.
The Aicon interacts with its surroundings intelligently and uses animations on its display surfaces to warn pedestrians or cyclists of dangerous situations. Driving modes such as platooning, urban driving or driving at a walking pace can be visualized. Horizontal stripes of light move from the bottom up when the car accelerates and in the opposite direction during braking. Their speed increases or decreases in sync with that of the car.
Future cars will expand their sphere of communication to the surroundings. The Aicon uses projector modules to illuminate the road and surroundings in high resolution and project signals onto the ground. This enables it to communicate warnings and vehicle information to passers-by with no direct line of sight to the car.
The Aicon features opposed doors that open to the front and rear, with no B-pillar. The entire breadth of the interior is thus exposed to the passengers as they get in the car. In the interior, the lines of the decorative surfaces and functional elements are markedly horizontal. Becoming lighter from bottom to top, the interior reinforces the impression of unique spaciousness, and the lack of a steering wheel and a classic dashboard creates a sense of openness and expanse.
This is underscored by the large glass surfaces, the transparent roof and the low waist line. Not to mention the special geometry of the side windows. Their top half angles distinctly outward, so that the maximum width is at eye height.
The interior appears to be particularly wide when the two individual front seats are slid all the way back. An upholstered, two-seat bench is integrated into the rear panel. The front seats don’t slide on rails, but rather on a platform covered in high-pile carpet that can be moved longitudinally, and on which the passengers’ feet also rest.
The individual seats can also be swiveled by up to 15 degrees. Turning the seats outward makes it even easier for the passengers to get in. Turning them inward makes it easier for the passengers to talk and interact. If the passengers turn around, the head restraints fold back like a collar and become an armrest.
The architecture of the seats is the automotive reinterpretation of a classic piece of furniture, the lounge chair. The seat cushion and backrest are visually separated from one another. Two outer shells support the light-coloured, pillow-like upholstery elements with a square-quilted surface. The side bolsters of the backrest are subtly angled to provide sufficient support in curves.
The oft-cited paradigm change in the automotive world is clearly evident in the Aicon. All of the controls and displays are missing – no steering wheel, pedals, groups of buttons or instruments. The passengers are enveloped by the gently curved armrest along the doors, which rises slightly from back to front. Instead of a dashboard in front of them, there is a generous shelf and the central display below the windscreen.
The glass roof panels can block out the sunlight, if desired. Their transparency level changes upon application of an electric voltage. Integrated OLED lighting elements allow for precise mood lighting or the even illumination of the interior when getting in or out of the car, for instance.
The very shape of the Aicon suggests it is a car of the future. It presumes a transportation infrastructure in which autonomously driving automobiles are a given on every street. Road users are connected to one another and their surroundings.
This also means that traffic will be less hectic and flow more smoothly in the future than is imaginable today. Even at moderate speed limits, long distances can be covered at a high constant speed of around 130 km/h.
The drive and the total vehicle have also been optimally adapted to this new world of mobility. A highly efficient electric drive provides for the dynamics of the Audi Aicon. 4 electric motors are located in the area of the front and rear axles. The energy storage units are integrated into the area below the floor. These are solid body batteries with considerably more energy capacity than lithium-ion batteries.
The four electric motors produce a total of 260 Kw/550 Nm and each drives one wheel, enabling electronically-controlled, variable quattro all-wheel drive. Maximum acceleration plays a less important role in the specification than maximum efficiency and thus also range. This operating strategy is also pursued by the powertrain and electric brake units, which use recuperation to recover energy. Targeted lightweight construction of the multimaterial body and optimized aerodynamics also help the Aicon to achieve ranges between 700 and 800 kms on a single charge.
Even charging has been reduced to a minimum. Thanks to a high-voltage system with 800 volts, the Aicon’s battery pack can be charged to 80% of capacity in less than 30 minutes. The car is also equipped with a unit of inductive (wireless) charging. In an AI Zone, it can pull up to a charging station on its own and charge its battery without any human assistance.
The Audi Aicon is an all-rounder well prepared for its primary task: to offer maximum comfort, communications technology and freedom for its occupants during a long journey. It combines the scopes for autonomous driving in an urban environment and on the highway with an unprecedented range for an electric drive.