- Audi AI:ME Concept features fully autonomous driving capabilities and electric motor
- Audi showcased virtual reality possibilities to entertain occupants while the car drives itself
- The Audi AI:ME adapts and learns from its owner to be meet his or her needs
The Consumer Electronics Show 2020 is part of what’s coming in tech, part pie in the sky. There’s some ridiculous stuff being dreamed and unveiled at the CES including ideas that took hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and that we may never see put into practical use.
Automakers are fully on the bandwagon and the CES has become the premier automotive event of January despite the North American International Auto Show. The CES has become so important for automakers that Detroit moved its show to June to not get buried in the hype coming out of Las Vegas. Audi was the first automaker to recognize the potential and significance of the CES when it joined in 2011.
This year, Audi brought its Audi AI:ME concept to Vegas and had journalists get behind the wheel on the roof of the Aria Hotel on the strip. Except in the AI:ME, the wheel disappears.
The concept that was waiting for us was the same that was unveiled in Shanghai earlier last year. It’s part of a series of four Audi AI concepts designed for various automotive environments. The Audi AI:CON is a premium luxury autonomous vehicle, the AI:RACE is for the track, and the AI:TRAIL is an autonomous off-roader.
The Audi AI:ME is all about urban mobility. It’s about the size of an Audi A3 although its bulky exterior panels, massive 23-inch wheels and uncluttered interior make it feel bigger. Audi sees the Audi AI:ME as the first step towards an eventual urban car that’s both electric and autonomous. It’s not fully autonomous and still has a steering wheel, but the latter can retract into a small table in front of the “driver” in most situations.
The idea here is that in the future, most urban areas, suburbs and highways will be friendly to autonomous vehicles. Your car will drive you to work, or to IKEA, or to your parents’ house outside the city. That said, it may take a while for every roadway to be mapped out, or weather may impact the effectiveness of autonomous driving technologies. That’s where that retractable steering wheel comes into play. You can still drive the Audi AI:ME, but Audi thinks most of us will prefer to relax and let the car handle all of that.
What Do I Do Now?
This year at CES, Audi wanted to answer the eventual question of what to do when the car is driving itself. As the AI:ME was maneuvering along a small course on a Vegas rooftop, my colleague and I had a virtual reality helmet on showing us flying through a beautiful mountain landscape in China. I could picture myself doing this in the morning and relaxing to the soothing soundtrack. Beats the heck out of worrying about that driver fiddling with Google Maps on their phone or desperately avoiding that taxi that was merging one way or another.
The car will eventually connect to your phone and adapt its entertainment to your preferences. As Audi’s Hildegard Wortmann told us after our first contact with the Audi AI:ME, this is a car that will know its owner and do everything it can to make life easier for him or her. It may even know us better than we know ourselves. A scary statement, but that’s where we’re headed. Maybe.
A couple of things come to the top when I think of this first drive in Audi’s autonomous urban concept. Firstly, if you strip away all of the VR and autonomous stuff, the Audi AI:ME concept was a great place to spend some time in. It’s a breeze to enter and exit, there’s plenty of space inside and the materials are top-notch. At the very least, Audi should use the prototype as a starting point for its future products.
Secondly, there will be a point in the future where we will need something to do in our cars because we certainly won’t be driving. Automakers need to get creative, and Audi’s virtual reality idea is a great starting point. I’m not sure I want my car deciding what I like for me, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.