Today, Audi released details of the final concept in its family of electric, emission-free cars, the AI:Trail – an off-road SUV.
The Trail follows the Audi Aicon, presented in 2017, which was designed for long-distance driving. The second, the AI:RACE, was, as its name suggests, designed for speed on the race track. The AI:ME was designed for mobility.
The new AI:Trail has been billed by Audi as ‘the ultimate car for off-road driving’. Like the rest of Audi’s concepts, the AI:Trail looks radically futuristic – less an SUV, more the type of car you’d expect to see roving the jungles of distant worlds. It is designed to reach a maximum speed of just 80.8mph on the road and carries a lithium-ion battery intended for a range of between 400 to 500 kilometres.
As for SUV prowess, a maximum torque of 1,000Nm combines with individually propelled wheels, so the vehicle can do without differentials and locks. Thanks to that low maximum speed, the gear ratio can be designed such that each wheel has sufficient torque without a multi-speed transmission.
The body is a mixture of steel, aluminium and carbon fibre, weighing 1,750 kilograms. A giant bubble of bulging, concave glass surrounds the car’s cabin which sits atop 22-inch wheels. These are equipped with 850mm (33.5in) tyres with optical sensors (cameras and lasers, ultrasound and radar) that detect road surfaces and adjust air pressure accordingly.
The car’s interior is crafted from recycled materials, such as leather and reprocessed wool. There is almost no digital interface inside the car, just a space for your smart device on top of the steering wheel. Two soft seats detach (and can be hung between trees like hammocks) to create more interior space.
Audi has specced it’s new concept car as autonomous level 4 – meaning fully autonomous in controlled areas. This vision comes with some rather lofty aims from Audi staff. “My vision is I go uphill in the car, I fly with my paraglider down and when I land the AI:Trail is already there,” says Marc Lichte, head of Audi Design.
The car’s most striking feature is the surface area of glass that makes up its windows. The glazing surrounding the cabin extends all the way to ground level, and, like the Aicon and AI:ME, protrudes outwards, much like a helicopter cockpit. “Usually we have always very high beltlines, small greenhouse and a massive body,” says Lichte. “Here we did the opposite.” Despite its futuristic look, Lichte says it’s actually this protruding beltline that he believes we will see it in production in less than 10 years.
This aim for maximum visibility extends to the lack of a heads-up display inside the car. The designers followed a digital-detox logic, assuming that those travelling in nature would want to pay attention to their surroundings, not to screens – the only display is your own smart device.
Perhaps most futuristic of all is the AI:Trails’ light sources. Channeling technology seen in Blade Runner 2049, five rotorless, triangular automatic drones dock on the car’s roof into inductive charging elements. These drones, which supposedly generate lift in the same way as bladeless fans produce air flow, fly in pairs ahead of the car, illuminating the road, and, if the driver wishes, stream video for the driver to view on their smart device.
Audi is not the first to think of such a system, Ford has already stated it is working on a similar setup to give its cars surrogate sensors.
Audi is also positioning this concept as another example of the changing nature of car ownership in the next ten years, one where users do not actually own their vehicles. “In the future it’s not just going to be about owning – there will still be people who want to buy a car like this,” explains Lichte. “But others want to have access to a car for the perfect use case. My wish would be that in ten years we are able to do a car like this.”
And this is where Lichte reaches the rub. As with all concepts, much of what Audi is displaying here will likely never see commercial production, but at least there are more than a few clues as to where the design and engineering teams wish to take Audi in the next decade or so.
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