Just ahead of the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show, Audi is already making waves. First, it was the Audi R8 V10 RWS, Audi Sport’s first rear-wheel drive car ever. Now, it’s the Audi Aicon autonomous concept car, which shows off Audi’s vision for the future.
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The Audi Aicon (Akon? A-ee-son? A-scon? Not sure, really) is a four-door 2+2 (two seats in front, two in back) that’s been designed to show off Audi’s vision for full, Level 5 autonomy. So inside the Aicon, you won’t see a steering wheel or pedal set. It’s a concept to show off what a fully autonomous Audi might look like in the future. It will also, obviously, be fully electric and have a range of somewhere between 700 – 800 kilometers. Theoretically, of course, as this car isn’t actually a functional production car.
Despite the fact that this is a completely autonomous concept with no capability of having a driver pilot it at all, Audi does not want you to think it’s some sort of robo-taxi. According to the folks in Ingolstadt, the Aicon is a luxurious transport machine, essentially.
From the outside, it looks exactly like we’d expect a futuristic Audi hatchback to look. It features all of the typical Audi design cues, such as the Singleframe Grille. It’s low roofline, funky shapes and massive 26-inch wheels all give it a very futuristic look, for better or worse. It looks like it belongs in Minority Report.
The one really interesting feature about the Audi Aicon’s exterior is its lighting. At both the front and the back, Audi has eschewed traditional lighting elements, such as LEDs, for hundreds of triangular pixel segments. They are actually three-dimensional recreations of the Audi AI symbol. More than 600 3D pixels are arranged in the spaces at front and at back. The large surfaces and high pixel count enable versatile graphics, animations and information visualizations in any color. So the Audi Aicon no longer needs to use daytime running lights or any sort of specific lighting. It can change and adapt its exterior lighting for whatever situation it’s in or even its passengers desires. Its limitations are boundless.
Even more interesting is the way the Aicon does “headlights”. 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 front lighting can even make shapes or symbols to warn pedestrians or cyclists. It can also project light out in specific shapes, to either display signals on the ground ahead of it or illuminate certain objects in the road.
Open the doors and you’ll notice that there is no B-pillar. The front doors open conventionally but the rears open rear-ward, like a Rolls Royce. Inside the Aicon, there are only two seats, both of which can move longitudinally and swivel 15 degrees as well. So the two passengers can move around the cabin in their seats quite a bit, making it more comfortable for them. The fact that the seats swivel also makes it easier for passengers to get in the car.
The rest of the cabin is very bare, very minimalist, so as to show off that this is, indeed, an autonomous car. There’s no steering wheel, there are no pedals and there are no instruments. It’s a cabin on wheels. There is a wrap-around screen the runs the length of the dash and the door panels, wrapping across the entire cabin.
That massive screen can display any sort of information, entertainment or news that the passengers wish. It can also display multiple things at once. Passengers will control it in three different ways, with touch, voice and even eye control. As for the latter, sensors monitor where passengers’ eyes are looking, which can be used to lock onto menus or buttons, which can then be selected with hand movements. Weird stuff.
Up top, massive glass panels can display lighting or change their transparency. So in they day, they can either show the sunlight or block it out or anything in between. It can also illuminate with multiple Audi AI symbols, to light up the cabin.
The Audi Aicon is powered by four electric motors, two at the front axle and two at the back axle. Combined system power is about 350 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque. Though, maximum acceleration isn’t really a priority for the Aicon, so Audi doesn’t even bother quoting a 0-60 mph time. What’s more important is range and, with up to 800 km (497 miles), the Aicon has a ton of it. It also gets 800-volt charging, so it can charge 80 percent of its battery in 30 minutes, if charged using the requisite power source.
This is a very funky concept from Audi that shows off the brand’s vision for the autonomous future. To be honest, it’s a bit disappointing that Audi is thinking about making cars without the capability to actually pilot. BMW recently claimed that it would never make a car that didn’t at least offer the driver the ability to drive, even after fully autonomous cars are made. That’s the sort of direction we were hoping Audi would go. This Audi Aicon is very technically impressive and would probably be interesting to ride in. We just wish it had a steering wheel.