The highest level

The vision behind the Audi AICON concept is a technological statement of intent. The message is: Watch out, future!

Patrick Morda (copy) & RECOM (CGI/postproduction) (photo)

The dragonfly is one of the animal kingdom’s most effective and efficient hunters. Since it can to a certain extent predict its prey’s movements, it is able to keep up the chase—even when dinner temporarily disappears from view. Dragonflies on the hunt switch over to a kind of autopilot, instinctively selecting or changing to the most promising meal. What are known as it`s CSTMD1 neurons are responsible for this behavior. Researchers at the Medical School of the University of Adelaide in Australia are endeavoring to learn from the dragonfly in order to make autonomous driving safer and more comfortable in the future. What makes the flying insect a good model for tomorrow’s mobility? One day, when cars are fully autonomous and rely on artificial intelligence rather than human choices, it’s essential that they be able to cut through a flood of information to make the right decision at the right time.

That sounds like part of a pretty distant future—one where drivers and cars will admittedly assume completely new roles. Technically speaking, it’s what is known as Level 5 on the autonomous driving scale. Between Level 0 and Level 5, active human intervention by a driver is gradually phased out. From today’s perspective, Level 0 is for all intents and purposes the recent past, while Level 5 is a long way off. As of now, we’re crossing the threshold from Level 2 to Level 3. In reality, the highest level represents an autonomous driving paradigm that is only theoretically attainable. And car makers wouldn’t be the only ones responsible for getting there. That’s because Level 5 involves maximum networking and control of all traffic zones. For this reason, Audi is focusing in practice on ensuring that the areas of application and situations where Level 3 and 4 vehicles can be used are quickly and systematically expanded, opening the way to greater freedom and usable time.

Yet the thinking doesn’t stop there. After all, the vision of one day engaging with mobility as a passive, passenger-seat experience that nevertheless feels supremely active, of making good use of the time it takes to get from A to B irrespective of what is happening on the roads, is an enticing one. With comfort, efficiency and personalization taken to new heights, cars—or vehicle interiors—will become a newfound living space.

From the four rings’ perspective, the foundation and point of departure for this vision is Audi AI. Innovative systems and technologies that will in the future display an ever more pronounced electronically based intelligence are being pooled under this label. The idea is that, as the actual job of driving fades more and more into the background, cars will evolve into empathetic companions providing personalized support and pro actively taking on undesirable tasks. Each vehicle will get to know its user and anticipate their needs. What’s more, Audi AI is carving out new freedoms by reducing the complexity of handling both the automobile and traffic. In this context, various aspects of artificial intelligence also have a crucial role to play—not only in the development of smart new empathetic systems but also during their subsequent use. Every contemporary car on the road today already collects vast quantities of data. Tomorrow, the focus will be on processing these ever increasing volumes at even greater speeds, comparing data with other road users and making collective use of it. Then, just like our dragonflies, cars may one day be able to see a little way into the future—about ten seconds may be possible. This would allow them to anticipate traffic situations as well as human wishes—all thanks to Audi AI.

Doors fitted inversely afford entry into a kind of feelgood command center. Steering wheel and dashboard are replaced by long, serenely sweeping surfaces framing seats that can be moved length ways or swiveled. Shifting automatically with the position of the seat, operating interfaces inside the doors serve to control the infotainment and communication systems.

Headlights in the traditional sense of the word won’t be necessary on tomorrow’s Level 5 vehicles such as the Audi AICON concept. Sensors, cameras and radar are the car’s eyes. Grouped around the Singleframe grille, digital 3D glass elements facilitate personal interaction and relay specific visual signals to the environment.

The glass roof surfaces are capable of blocking out daylight completely. What’s more, integrated lighting elements can create selected lighting moods or illuminate the interior evenly—for instance, when getting in or out of the car.

A 3,468-millimeter wheelbase is a nod to the wide, spacious interior. The dynamic roofline sloping gently toward the tail is at once reminiscent of contemporary sports car and coupé proportions. Markedly flared wheel arches underscore the car’s quattro DNA. The Audi AICON can be returned to 80-percent battery capacity in under 30 minutes thanks to an 800-volt, high-voltage system integrated into the concept.


For the moment, the dragonfly has the advantage that it’s the real-life result of millions of years of evolution. The Audi vision detailing how Level 5 mobility might eventually look and function is still very new and just starting out on its developmental path. But it does already have a name—Audi AICON. A design study, technological showpiece and mobility concept all rolled into one, this four-door, 2 plus 2-seater takes another flying leap into how exterior and interior design might look decades down the line. As a technological showpiece, it’s the embodiment of how far the envelope can be pushed in terms of drive systems, chassis and digitalization. As a mobility concept, the study imagines how personal transportation without a steering wheel or pedals could work. But it’s the interior—or, to put it more accurately, the absence of familiar structures inside the car—that offers the most compelling snapshot of how personalized, premium mobility will function in decades to come. Doors fitted inversely front and rear afford passengers entry into a kind of feelgood command center, command primarily signifying that input on, say, destination and desired route is relayed to the Audi AICON. Assuming the car is in any case part of a personalized, digital eco-system, it could even offer suggestions based on its acquired experience. Then all you have to do is take a comfy seat that can be shifted lengthwise as well as swiveled, sit back and soak up the much-vaunted paradigm shift in motoring. Steering wheel, gear stick, buttons and dashboard are replaced by long, serenely sweeping surfaces. Air-conditioning, seat settings and infotainment system layout adapt to suit the passengers.

Shifting automatically with the position of the seat, operating interfaces inside the doors serve to control the infotainment and communication systems. In addition to manual operation, voice control and eye-tracking are used to relay requests and commands to the Audi AICON. The propulsion system of choice would be electric, enhancing dynamism and range thanks to a new efficiency concept. A total of four electric motors are positioned at the front and rear axles. Likely to provide three times the energy capacity of today’s lithium-ion technology, the solid-state batteries are integrated into the underfloor area. Overall, the four electric motors—one per wheel—generate 260 kilowatts and 1,100 newton-meters of torque. As the strikingly sculpted wheel arches suggest, Audi quattro is naturally part of the Audi AICON package. Recuperation coupled with an intelligent operating strategy, selective lightweight design and refined aerodynamics are expected to allow a range of more than 800 kilo­meters. After all, the Audi AICON is aiming to be more than a smart mobility concept on the streets of tomorrow’s ­cities, far removed from all the robot taxi ideas. With it, the traditional road trip experience will also take on a whole new dimension. Which brings us full circle back to the dragonfly—not just an exceptional hunter but also the insect kingdom’s master of the long-haul flight.