The autonomously driving car as an oasis of well-being: this is what the Audi AI: ME concept car should give an outlook on. But on a short trip at the CES in Las Vegas it doesn't work without an accident – the electric show car rams a wall on the test site.
The beginning is promising: The operating concepts via eye tracking and remote touch, which Audi introduces at the beginning of the automated journey, appear mature. In the autonomous driving mode, the steering wheel and pedals of the AI: ME retract, leaving plenty of space on the driver and passenger side. A kind of ottoman invites the passenger to lie down in the futuristic interior, while the AI: ME glides over the test course.
Innovative operating concepts
You won't find any classic controls. Almost everything is controlled via an OLED screen that stretches across the entire width of the windshield – via eye tracking. Menus can be selected by eye contact and then release further levels. The entries are confirmed via touch-sensitive fields in the door sill. An infrared camera for the driver and front passenger each analyze the muscle movements under the eyes and should thus recognize the exact direction of the gaze. In the test drive, this works well in the driver's seat, there is a bit of a jerk from the passenger seat, especially if you don't lean your head on the headrest.
Thanks to virtual reality, the car should become an oasis of wellbeing. Similar to the back seat VR Holoride shown at CES 2019, Audi uses VR glasses for the AI: ME to entertain the passengers, for example to kidnap them into spectacular mountain landscapes while you are actually stuck in a traffic jam. In contrast to the back seat VR, in the autonomously driving AI: ME the passengers in the front row can also escape into virtual worlds. To do this, the technology evaluates the sensor and navigation data of the vehicle in real time and integrates it into the VR world: steering and acceleration have a direct effect on the content shown. We do not notice any delay during the test drive. We glide relaxed through remote forest landscapes and get nothing from the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas – until it crashes.
Against the wall
Despite controlled conditions on a course marked with a kind of QR code, the blinding sun and a weak GPS signal are enough to confuse the system in such a way that the journey ends on a wall, at least in an initial analysis, Audi technicians lead the way Accident due to these conditions. Probably one of the QR codes reflected the sun, making it unreadable for the cameras. A curve with hardly more than walking pace becomes the doom for the car on the marked course – it rams a wall with the right fender.
According to Audi, the AI: ME is prepared for autonomous driving up to level 4. According to an Audi spokesman, the showcase car is equipped with near-series sensors, but important redundancies are missing, as would be used in a production vehicle for road traffic. The concept vehicle does not feel its way around the world like a conventional vehicle and, due to its reduced sensor set and degree of redundancy compared to a production vehicle, perceives less of its surroundings. It is based on cameras and image markers attached to the route, the basic functionality of which is comparable to QR codes. A spokesman says that a similar accident is impossible with an autonomous vehicle with standard equipment.
Note: Audi has covered the author's travel expenses to the CES.
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