What’s the point of an Audi you can’t drive yourself?

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(September 17, 2017) Audi says the Aicon Mobility Concept is a technology demonstrator, “in which the advantages of door-to-door individual transportation are combined with the luxurious ambiance of a first-class cabin.” More than just a robot taxi, the Aicon sits on a wheelbase that, at 136.6 inches, is 9.4 inches longer than that of the new A8, stretches 214 inches overall, is a massive 82.7 inches wide, and stands 59.3 inches tall.

The suicide doors open to reveal an opening unencumbered by a B-pillar (something that would be hard to replicate in a production vehicle), a color palette that gets lighter as it goes from the bottom to the top, and a low shoulder line with large windows whose lower half angles outward.

Missing are things you’ve come to expect in a car, like a steering wheel, pedals and conventional instrument panel. Instead, you will find individual swiveling front seats complemented by an upholstered two-seat bench that is integrated into the rear panel, thick-pile carpeting, and an adjustable platform that can be used as an ottoman.

It’s more living room than automobile, especially since — as autonomous cars won’t ever crash — classic restraint systems are no longer needed. But then they said similar things about the Titanic….

As a transportation module, the Aicon has been designed for sustained long-distance travel at a constant 80 mph. There are four identical electric motors — two for each axle — producing a total of 260 kW (349 hp) and 406 lb.-ft. of torque, and providing variable torque split all-wheel drive. The batteries (Audi won’t say anything other than they are encased in a solid body and have an energy capacity much greater than lithium-ion) are located under the floor.

Range (It’s a concept. Who’s going to hold you to the numbers?) is estimated at 434-497 miles on a full charge. And that charging, if you have a high capacity 800-volt charger, takes less than 30 minutes. Or it can be inductively charged. Either way, the Aicon can plug in without human intervention.

And then there’s the exterior lighting. The front lighting system features more than 600 full-color 3D pixels that can broadcast graphics, animations, visualizations, and adapt its countenance to the driving situation. The horizontal lighting elements on either side of the virtual grille are shaped like eyes and can be squinted or expanded for a wide-eyed look. They can even follow passersby or other road users, while the rest of the display uses animations to warn pedestrians or cyclists of dangerous situations. And, if that’s not enough, a lighted drone is activated when exiting the Aicon at night to illuminate the passengers’ path.

Which leaves one question: What the hell is in the water at Audi’s design and development center in Ingolstadt?

The Virtual Driver