Future cars: Relaxing in the Audi AI:ME
Urban, electric, stylish — in Shanghai, Audi is presenting its latest show car: the Audi AI:ME. This time, design development was focused squarely on the interior. Audi designer James Nissen explains how the AI:ME is like a “third living area” and what role real plants have to play in that.
I’m sitting in a comfortable armchair, sipping my hot coffee and reading a book. The air is clear, yet pleasantly warm. I lean back and let my gaze wander. Green plants give me the feeling of being out in nature. Do I want to listen to some music? Definitely! My eyes fix on the display and my favorites playlist starts playing. Good mood? You bet! Where am I? In the living room? No, I’m in the Audi AI:ME show car, which is driving me home through a noisy metropolis after a hard day at work.
What will future cars look like? The feel-good factor will be the most important credo
There’s a new design concept behind the vision of the not-so-distant future. James Nissen, interior architect designer at Audi, explains: “We designed the AI:ME entirely from a user experience standpoint. We put ourselves in the position of the person who wants to drive from point A to point B in the city with the AI:ME — and to escape from the noise and hectic of the big city during the drive. That’s why our design process was primarily focused on the interior of the AI:ME.”
That’s something new. Ordinarily, the car’s interior and exterior are designed simultaneously. But the AI:ME is anything but ordinary. With this car, the interior provides inspiration for the exterior. The interior design is clearly focused on passenger comfort at every level.
How? For one thing, the car offers considerably more interior space — even though it has the dimensions of a town car. The seats are as comfortable as an armchair and adjust themselves to the users’ favorite position when the car is unlocked. When passengers want to talk to each other, they can turn the front seats as needed and set up tables wherever they want. Those tables are where James’ favorite gadget in the AI:ME can be found: the magnetic coffee cup, which can’t slide off.
The touch panel, which almost completely surrounds the interior, is hardly noticeable at first glance. The displays, which even include an eye-tracking system, are invisible until a touch or voice command is given. The touch panel allows the passenger to adjust the seats, temperature, or lighting, as well as control the sound system, connect to the internet, or access curated restaurant suggestions and wellness tips.
A self-driving car or driving yourself? With the AI:ME, it’s your choice
We want to offer users a unique experience and a new place to get away from it all — a kind of third living space — and as much comfort and freedom as possible.
The user also has the freedom to decide at any time if he wants to drive himself or would rather leave it to the AI:ME. If he chooses to use the AI:ME as a self-driving car, the passenger has a variety of options to make productive use of the time he gains back — and that in comfort. He can talk to the car’s other occupants, answer emails, read, or watch a movie — and these are just a few of the options available.
Building a bridge between the driver and the self-driving car was the greatest challenge for interior designer James Nissen. His goal: to create a harmonious connection between these two worlds. The convertible steering wheel is a perfect example of how he achieved this. Nissen explains: “When the passenger switches to self-driving mode, the steering wheel folds down and a table folds out. Magic!”
Plants inside a car? The AI:ME appeals to all the senses
“We want to provide solutions to our customers’ needs,” says Nissen. “We create a feel-good atmosphere by appealing to all of the users’ senses.” It starts with the way the AI:ME adjusts itself to suit the user’s preferences as soon as he gets in: temperature, ambient lighting, seat positioning. And it continues with luxurious materials and furniture and even real plants that add to the immediate visual appeal. Real plants, James? “Yes, we use climbing plant across the see-through roof to bring a bit of nature into the big city. Aside from that, they improve the air quality.” Speaking of clean air: the car features an air management system that filters the polluted air of the metropolis and provides fresh, clean air in the interior.
The passenger should experience the AI:ME as an oasis of calm that provides an escape from the stress and noise of daily life. Cocooning — it’s not just for the living room anymore. Now it’s coming to cars! I finish the rest of my coffee and step out of the car at home — relaxed and feeling good.
4 questions about the lighting design in the AI:ME for Michael Horn, exterior lighting designer at Audi
How do the lights on the AI:ME look and what is so special about the lighting design?
Michael Horn: The special thing is that the lights communicate with the surrounding environment. For this reason, the lights are more prominently placed to make them easily visible to those outside the car, such as pedestrians. The higher positioning on the grill and on the “quattro cheeks” at the front and rear let the car better “communicate” with its surroundings. The many individual LEDs in the structure of the grill make it possible to display different light animations in different colors and intensities.
Why does light design need to be conceived of differently in a self-driving car?
The biggest difference is that the light takes on an entirely different function than it does in a car that is not self-driving. It’s less about actively lighting up the surroundings and more about being seen and understood. In the future, the lights should replace eye contact with the driver and let the car inform its surroundings about what it is doing. This means that the headlights of a self-driving car become less important.
What driving situations are you thinking of in particular?
The AI:ME can tell others on the road when it wants to take off, accelerate, or overtake someone. We can also communicate in complex situations that, without the lights, would absolutely require eye contact with the driver. For example, when yielding, or to signal to passengers that they can safely cross the street in front of the car. We manage this with new lighting signals and animations, but also by changing the light intensity or color.
What would be a concrete example of these signals?
A good example for the AI:ME’s communication is the signal it gives to pedestrians to indicate that they can cross the street. We represent this situation with green dots — symbolizing pedestrians — that “walk” from left to right. It’s important to us to provide information as effectively as possible while still keeping the lighting signals as simple as we can. That’s because drivers and pedestrians need to see, process, and react to the signal in a split second.