Audi’s Aicon is a sleek, futuristic-looking autonomous EV concept car (Fig. 1). One feature you’ll immediately notice is that all the controls and displays are missing: steering wheel, pedals, groups of buttons and instruments. These features are consistent with a unique, Level 5 autonomous car, which means it can drive itself without any human intervention. The Aicon might not become a reality any time soon, but it obviously demonstrates Audi’s thinking about autonomous cars.
1. Audi’s Aicon is a futuristic autonomous EV.
In keeping with Audi’s forward thinking, the Aicon has four electric motors that produce a total of 260 kW and 550 Nm (405.7 lb-ft.) torque. Each motor drives one wheel, enabling electronically controlled, variable all-wheel drive. Maximum acceleration played a less important role than maximum efficiency and range. Audi’s strategy is also pursued by its powertrain and regenerative braking to recover energy and extend its range. Lightweight construction of the multi-material body and optimized aerodynamics help the Aicon achieve specified ranges between 700 and 800 kilometers (435.0-497.1 mi) on a single charge.
The Aicon is just a concept, so you might want to take the specified range with a “grain of salt.” Even if the range estimates are accurate, it could be lower in the U.S. because the new European Driving Cycle estimates are often higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates.
Aicon is powered by solid body batteries that are integrated into the area below the floor and have more energy density than lithium-ion batteries. Battery charging uses an 800V system that allows the battery unit to be charged to 80% of capacity in less than 30 minutes. The car is also equipped with inductive, wireless charging. In fact, it can pull up to a charging station on its own and charge its battery without any human assistance.
The car’s exterior length is 5,444 millimeters (17.9 ft.), a width of 2,100 millimeters (6.9 ft.) and a height of 1,506 millimeters (4.9 ft.). The wheelbase measures 3,470 millimeters (11.4 ft.). That’s 240 millimeters (9.4 in.) more than with the long version of the new Audi A8.
Its car designers reduced the front and rear ends to a minimum of lines and focused on large, uninterrupted surfaces. The Aicon front features the inverted hexagonal Singleframe, a typical feature of the upcoming generation of electric cars from Audi.
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. The car does away with long-range headlights for nighttime driving, relying instead on its autonomous sensor suite to navigate dark driving conditions.
Figure 2 shows the lighting in the rear of the car. 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 color.
2. Rear view of the Audi Aicon concept car.
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 passersby or other road users, it literally makes eye contact with them and follows them with its “eyes.”
The Aicon 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 of light increases or decreases in sync with that of the car.
The Audi Aicon’s laser and radar sensor system also “sees” enough even in the dark, and can reliably find the way and detect possible obstacles in good time. When passengers exit the Audi Aicon in the dark, a “light companion” is activated: A drone uses a flashlight to safely illuminate the user’s walking path.
Illuminated lines of LEDs set colorful accents in the area of the doors. The front display lights up with a welcome message. PIA, the empathetic electronic vehicle assistant, recognizes the passenger by his phone and activates all of his personal settings. There are custom settings for the air conditioning and seating position, interior light color, and the layout of the infotainment system. The navigation system awaits entry of a destination, and all accessible channels of communication are ready for use, connected via the fastest available standard.
Depending on the position of the seats, which can be shifted by up to 50 centimeters (19.7 in.), ergonomic perfectly positioned touch and display elements are available in the digitized wrap-around. Touch-sensitive control panels allow passengers to set the most important settings by tapping with their fingers and without having to sit up in their seats or lean forward.
A full range of services offered by modern communications electronics is available at all times in the Aicon. Travelers can relax and watch a film or surf the web. Video conferences are another option, as is interaction on social media. Depending on the seating position, the passengers can use the large front display as the output surface or a virtual head-up image displayed above it in the windshield.
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 precise mood lighting or the even illumination of the interior when getting in or out of the car.
Even at moderate speed limits, long distances can be covered at a high constant speed of around 130 km/j (80.8 mph). Passengers experience the journey as comfortable cruising without constant braking and accelerating.
As a true quattro, the Audi Aicon offers ample performance and even autonomously always reaches its destination safely regardless of the weather or road surface. The suspension is designed for maximum comfort. Pneumatic spring and damper units smooth out any road surface irregularities. Electric actuators at all four wheels actively counteract any body lean, whether when cornering, accelerating or braking. As a fully active suspension system, it also optimizes the qualities of the adaptive air suspension.
The axle and drive units in the Audi Aicon are symmetrical, i.e., identical at the front and rear. Mechanical components, such as the steering shaft or steering hydraulics, have been eliminated. The car is therefore equipped with a complete all-wheel steering system without compromising the available space and thus the passenger compartment. A positive effect for the practical qualities of the Audi Aicon: Despite its long wheelbase of nearly 3.47 meters (11.4 ft.), the car is extremely agile due to its two steerable axles—the turning radius of only 8.50 meters (27.9 ft.) is below that of a small car, thus making the Audi Aicon suitable for city center driving.