It's like riding around in a first-class airline cabin, complete with the lack of controls.
Audi’s vision of the future – at least with the Aicon Concept – is one where there are no drivers, just passengers. That fact is readily apparent when you look inside this sleek machine to see there are no controls whatsoever. This is a level 5 autonomous vehicle, meaning it does absolutely everything at all times, leaving as many as four occupants for the 2 + 2 design to watch television, gab on social media, or if you’re a workaholic, hold a business meeting. Indeed, the concept’s interior is more like a first-class airline trip on a 747, except you don’t have an on-board bathroom. That’s about the only luxury the Aicon Concept doesn’t offer its passengers.
The car is about as big as a 747 as well. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but at nearly 18 feet in length it’s no tiny runabout. The wheelbase is several inches longer than the automaker’s flagship A8, and that space is easy visualized in the expansive interior. The seats are designed more like home furniture, providing comfort with just enough bolstering to keep passengers in place during light cornering. They also swivel for easy face-to-face chatting or for ingress/egress. Occupants obviously have no ability to drive, but touchscreens and controls are spread out for easy reach, and they can even have limited movement to adjust depending on seating position. Various screens – even the windshield itself – can be used for viewing anything from movies to video teleconferencing.
This is all part of what Audi calls the paradigm shift in the automotive landscape. The shift, of course, is cars that don’t require any human intervention and it leads to many other innovative – if slightly creepy – features. For example, if humans don’t need to see, then there’s no need for traditional lights on the outside. Instead, there are digital display surfaces utilizing hundreds of pixel segments. These “light areas” can give off light, but can also be set up to display a variety of images. They can also project information onto the road surface that other autonomous cars car read. They can even combine to take the form of “eyes” that can see specific objects – such as people or other cars – and actually stare at them, with the gaze staying fixed on the object even as the car moves. Yeah, creepy.
At night, high-beam lights are replaced by an array of lasers and other sensors so the car can “see” the surroundings. Low-level light is still used so absent-minded pedestrians can actually see the car while walking near the road.
So how does it drive? Since the Aicon’s primary mission it to shuffle passengers in comfort, performance is obviously not a benchmark. Being Audi it does feature all-wheel drive, courtesy of four electric motors in the front and rear axles that produce a combined 350 horsepower. Cruising speed is the priority over acceleration, and to that end Audi says the Aicon can cruise at 80 mph with a range of approximately 435 to 500 miles. When it needs more juice, the car can find its own way to a charging station and be back to 80 percent capacity within 30 minutes.
Of course, the Aicon is just a concept demonstrator. There are no production plans at this time, but it does offer some interesting insights into the not-so-distant future of motoring.