Audi’s pitching more than just new models at Auto Shanghai this month; it’s promoting a new way to drive. The AI:ME Concept is a summonable, self-driving urban electric, aimed at reshaping the company’s business model — or at least examining that possibility. While Audi refers to the vehicle as a highly specialized premium automobile that can be ordered as needed and offers “extensive possibilities for individualization as part of an on-demand offer,” the company also noted the AI:ME “need not pass into permanent personal ownership.”
The automaker was careful not to use the phrase, but these vehicles would operate under a loosely defined subscription or rental model where customers book a car via their smartphone or computer, stipulating how they need it to be configured for their journey. From there, the vehicle makes its way to the designated pickup point and applies the final adjustments based on previously established seating, climate, lighting, entertainment, and control preferences.
It’s a bespoke, premium experience that also happens to be shared. Once you or the car has driven to your destination, the car can be sent away to find another part-time companion — leaving you to re-order once it’s time to head back home.
Obviously, this vision of the future requires some speculation on Audi’s part. Even though several manufacturers have taken to embracing autonomous taxis, the necessary technologies have yet to prove themselves as truly viable.
However, Audi believes Level 4 autonomy will be sufficient to have the AI:ME pilot itself around tomorrow’s “megacities,” though you can also drive the vehicle yourself. It’s quite similar to Chevrolet’s Cruise AV in concept, just with human-focused controls that retract into the car when not needed — leaving you with the lounge-like interior that’s become extremely popular with trade show AVs.
Technical specifications are in step with Volkswagen’s first I.D. model intended for Europe. That means a 168-hp electric motor and 65.0-kWh battery pack. That should be fine, as Audi believes the vehicles will be largely confined to urban environments and heavy traffic — no doubt contributed to by droves of empty AVs.
At 169.2 inches in length, the vehicle’s overall size is slightly larger than a VW Golf. But Audi says the EV architecture allows for short overhangs and more interior volume than you would expect to find inside similarly sized internal combustion models. There’s also some pretty slick-sounding tech that may not really exist (yet).
The vehicle and as the communication and interaction systems are operated by means of eye tracking, voice input, and touch-sensitive fields in the door rail. They are positioned perfectly in terms of ergonomics and are normally integrated into the surface, making them invisible. The lighting is activated only when approached, and guides the user’s gaze to the functional surfaces.
There is a multifunctional, three-dimensional OLED monitor that runs below and along the entire length of the windshield and is used primarily in dialogue with eye-tracking control. Terminologically coded function menus, for example for navigation or infotainment, can be activated with the eye and then open up further levels that move from the background into the sharp view mode on the 3D monitor.
The car is also supposed to be loaded with real plants and constantly monitor occupant stress levels, incorporating intelligent algorithms that allow the Audi to “get to know the driver better and better and improve their options in a specific manner.”
Unlike the Audi AIcon Concept, which debuted in 2017, the AI:ME is not intended for production. But both cars represent the brand’s pathway toward automated driving and a serve as a place to experiment with new ideas. The AIcon was originally planned to hit Chinese streets in 2021 and, while that’s looking less likely these days, the long-term plan for Audi’s AVs remains largely unchanged. The company envisions deliverable luxury cars, without a permanent address, that can be shared between customers.