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Frankfurt show: Audi goes off-track again with AI:Trail

Audi AI:Trail concept seeks to find fun in a future of autonomous driving

11 Sep 2019

IN A world where motoring is becoming increasingly controlled and clinical, Audi has attempted to put some fun back into personal mobility with an electric off-road concept car that – while fanciful – trials some visionary technologies and design features that just might make it into production.


Called AI:Trail quattro, the four-seat off-roader revealed at this week’s Frankfurt motor show even has drones instead of headlights to light up the road from above.


The concept is the fourth in the AI line from Audi that started with the Aicon luxury long-distance electric car at the 2017 Frankfurt show, was followed by an electric racer called AI Race at the 2018 Pebble Beach concours d’elegance and then the AI:Me electric city car at this year’s Shanghai motor show.


It is also the second off-road concept vehicle shown by parent company Volkswagen Group this year after it revealed the open-air electric ID Buggy at the Geneva motor show in March.


Powered by four motors – one driving each wheel for all-wheel drive – producing a combined 320kW of power and 1000Nm of torque, the AI:Trail is effectively a carbon-fibre and glass cabin sitting on a steel-and-aluminium chassis with chunky wheels with a wide footprint.


Although the little vehicle looks light, the hefty battery buried in the floor boosts kerb weight to 1770kg.


Although the battery size was not disclosed, Audi says it enables the AI:Trail to travel 400-500km on the road. This drops to 250km in off-road driving due to wheel slip on gravel and mud and other hindrances.


Just 4150mm long but a hefty 2150mm wide, the enclosed buggy has a ground clearance of 340mm and long-travel suspension to help it negotiate rugged territory.


One of its defining features is the amount of glass in the cabin, providing a view “like a helicopter” at the front. This glazing extends across the roof to permit an almost unrestricted view.


“The aim of the designers here was to give those inside the vehicle the best possible view of nature and their surroundings, breaking the boundaries between the interior and the world outside,” Audi says.


Even the Audi family ‘singleframe’ grille bearing the four-ring logo is glazed at the front in a move that would no doubt draw the attention of safety campaigners.


Like Jeep’s iconic Wrangler, the windscreen and tailgate open up, with the rear opening proving access to the luggage compartment that also has a second bin accessed through the bumper for wet items.


Retractable side sills also double as steps to reach the roof rack.


The designers simplified the mudguards to mere strips above the wheels, a design so see-through that the vehicles occupants can watch the suspension moving as they drive along.


One of the most innovative tricks to the AI:Trail is its fleet of five rotorless drones that – when not in use, are docked on the roof to charge their batteries.


Flying in pairs, these drones can fly ahead of the vehicle to light the road while at the same time beaming camera images back to the vehicle as a form of “eye in the sky”.


They can land and take off automatically from the roof or the roof rack.


Inside, the front sport seats have four-point seatbelts. In the back, hammock-style seats provide accommodation for two while also doubling as removable deck chairs for picnics.


The AI:Trail has pedals and steering wheel – or a yoke in this case – for the driver to take control in off-roading, even though the vehicle is equipped with Level 4 autonomous driving capability for on-road travel.

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