Audi’s two Frankfurt concepts show the company’s version of the last two stages of driverless cars, SAE levels 4 and 5.
First up is the Elaine, the next step for the e-tron Sportback shown in Shanghai in May, possibly due in production in 2020. The Elaine’s 430-hp EV powertrain has an electric motor in front driving the front wheels and two out back. Audi says it should hit 62 mph in 4.5 seconds. Battery capacity is 95 kWh, so range is expected to be around 300 miles.
The roughly A7-sized Elaine uses an advanced version of the new A8’s Level 3 Traffic Jam Pilot for autonomous operation up to 81 mph. In Level 4, it can change lanes to pass on its own, and it has V2X (vehicle to infrastructure) technology, so it’s able to see road hazards early. The car can operate without anyone in the car “at times,” Audi says, in what calls AI Zones, such as parking structures. If there is a human on board, the car watches the occupant’s heart rate and body temp and has several features, including seat massagers and various mood lighting stages, to help keep you alert.
Audi’s other concept, the Aicon, is more pie-in-the-sky since it’s fully driverless, or Level 5. It’s also quite large: At 214 inches long, it’s 9 inches longer than a long-wheelbase A8. This allows for a large interior with no dash, steering wheel or instruments and with front seats more like lounge chairs, able to swivel 15 degrees.
The powertrain uses two electric motors in front and two in back, for 349 hp total. Audi hopes the car’s batteries will one day be advanced enough for a 500-mile range. The company’s plans for a driverless luxury car include four-wheel air suspension and four-wheel steering.
Other futurist features include high-pixel LED headlamps, full voice control for interior functions, and what Audi calls Personal Intelligent Assistant — it learns your behavior patterns and can do things for you before you tell it to.
Both cars’ names include Audi’s AI designation, the company’s new abbreviation for a group of what it calls “innovative mobility technologies.” Audi says the idea behind AI is to see what’s possible in offering systems that relieve owner stress while also offering new ways to more productively use the time spent in the car. Audi says AI systems will be able to learn and think and continually interact with the outside world as well as the cars’ occupants, aiming for a day in the future when your Audi is “a third living space” alongside home and work.