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Audi's New Urbansphere Concept Shows How People Might Travel in the Future When a Human Driver is Longer Needed

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【Summary】Many automakers are unveiling futuristic looking electric concept vehicles that represent their own vision of the future of mobility. But in a future where vehicles can operate autonomously without any human intervention, a space for a driver will no longer be required. With this in mind, Audi revealed a new urban concept vehicle called the “Urbansphere” that offers a glimpse of how people might get around cities in the era of fully-autonomous driving.

Eric Walz    Apr 19, 2022 4:30 PM PT
Audi's New Urbansphere Concept Shows How People Might Travel in the Future When a Human Driver is Longer Needed
The electric Audi urbansphere concept vehicle.

Many automakers are unveiling futuristic looking electric concept vehicles that represent their own vision of the future of mobility. Most of these vehicles include a fixed steering wheel and driver controls, but in a future where vehicles can operate autonomously without any human intervention, a space for a driver will no longer be required. 

With this in mind, Audi revealed a new urban concept vehicle called the "Urbansphere" that offers a glimpse of how people might get around cities in the era of fully-autonomous driving. 

The roomy and comfortable urbansphere serves as a comfortable lounge on wheels, a mobile office, or a third living space during the time spent in traffic.  

The steering wheel, pedals, and conventional dashboard in the urbansphere can be hidden during automated driving, which enhances the feeling of spaciousness.

The entire concept of the Audi urbansphere is based on level 4 autonomous vehicle technology. Audi is currently working with CARIAD, which is Volkswagen Group's software business, to introduce level-4 autonomous driving technology within the second half of the decade.

Audi's designers and engineers initially created the Audi urbansphere for use in traffic-dense Chinese megacities, such as Beijing and Shanghai. In these urban areas, where personal space is in particularly short supply, the urbansphere offers the largest interior space of any Audi vehicle to date, according to the company. The urbansphere also includes technologies and digital services to create a whole new experience for passengers.

Audi says the urbansphere combines the luxury of complete privacy with a comprehensive range of high-tech features on board. The fully-automated driving capabilities mean there is no need for a steering wheel, pedals, or displays, such as an instrument cluster to intrude upon the cabin. The result is a comfortable mobile space that can serve as a foundation of a digital mobile ecosystem.

The urbansphere features a large flat battery pack which significantly opens up the interior space for passengers. Its dimensions are 5.51 meters (18 feet) long, 2.01 meters (6.6 feet) wide, and 1.78 meters (5.8 feet) high.

Since the urbansphere's interior is designed around passengers, Audi wasn't concerned about how many passengers it can fit, or about adding various storage compartments throughout the interior. Instead, the urbansphere prioritizes the occupants' need for ample space and a comfortable environment.

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The interior of the urbansphere is minimalistic. Audi managed to conceal all of the display screens and instrument cluster gauges until they are activated by the occupants.

The urbansphere offers 5.8 feet of headroom and expansive glass surfaces so light floods into the cabin so the interior feels larger than a traditional multi-passenger vehicle. The interior features wood and wool finishes, as well as synthetic textile fabrics. These materials are used in the paneling, seat coverings, and floor carpets. All of which have a high-quality feel and are pleasant to the touch, according to Audi.

The Audi urbansphere features four individual seats in two rows offering passengers an experience akin to a first class airline travel. The seats in the rear offer a wide range of adjustment options. 

In "Relax" and "Entertain" modes, the backrest can be tilted up to 60 degrees while leg rests extend at the same time. The center-mounted armrests integrated into the sides of the seats to help create a comforting feeling of security, according to Audi.

Between the rear seats  is a center console that swivels upwards when needed. It contains a water dispenser and drinking glasses to elevate the Audi urbansphere's first-class credentials.

The four seats also swivel so passengers can turn to face each other for conversation. For those passengers that would rather relax without social interaction, they can conceal their head area from the person sitting next to them using a privacy screen mounted behind the headrest. In addition, each seat has its own sound zone with embedded speakers in the headrests. Individual monitors are also built into the backs of the front seats for the rear seat occupants.

When passengers want to use the infotainment system together, such as watching a movie, a large-format OLED screen that pivots vertically from the roof area into the zone between the rows of seats so its viewable by all passengers.

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To further increase passenger comfort, the urbansphere features adaptive air suspension with semi-active damper control. It offers outstanding comfort on highways as well as worn urban pavement, with no noticeable body movement.

Since the urbansphere is designed to serve as an oasis from the bustling city outside, Audi turned it into a "wellness zone" using input from Chinese customers. For example, the urbansphere features stress detection using facial scans and voice analysis to determine how passengers are feeling. 

If the system detects that a passenger is stressed, the vehicle offers personalized suggestions for relaxation, including a unique meditation app that can be used via the personal screen and the private sound zone in the headrests.

"In order to meet the demands of our Chinese customers, Audi's design studios in Beijing and Ingolstadt worked together closely to jointly develop the Audi urbansphere concept car," says Markus Duesmann, Chairman of the Board Management at AUDI AG and responsible for the Chinese market. "For the first time, potential customers in China could also take part in the development process, contributing their own desires and perspectives as part of a process known as "co-creation".

On the road, Audi plans to offer digital services from third party providers. Customized infotainment offerings, such as music and video streaming services, will be available. Audi will also offer customers exclusive perks, including access to concerts, cultural events, and sporting events based on their individual preferences.

 The vehicle also acts as a personal assistant, making dinner reservations or shopping online from the urbansphere. In addition, the autonomous Audi urbansphere concept picks up its passengers at home and independently takes care of finding a parking space and charging the battery.

"To make e-mobility even more attractive, we think about it holistically and from the customer's needs," says Duesmann. "More than ever before, it is not just the product that is decisive, but the entire ecosystem. That is why Audi is creating a comprehensive ecosystem with services for the entire car. The Audi urbansphere concept also offers everyone onboard a wide range of options to use that freedom to provide a highly-personalized in-car experience: communication or relaxation, work or withdrawal into a private sphere as desired. As such, it transforms from being strictly an automobile into an "experience device."

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The technology platform of the urbansphere, which Audi calls the "Premium Platform Electric or PPE'', was designed exclusively for battery-electric drive systems. The key element of the PPE is a 120 kW battery module situated between the axles. The flat layout for the battery that takes up almost the entire base of the vehicle and results in a flat floor.

The Audi urbansphere concept's two electric motors are capable of delivering a total output of 295 kilowatts. The vehicle is equipped with permanent quattro four-wheel drive, which Audi is known for. One innovative feature is that the motor on the front axle can be deactivated as needed to reduce energy consumption. For example, when coasting downhill.

The Audi urbansphere also features 800 volt charging technology, allowing the battery to accept up to 270 kilowatts of energy at fast-charging stations for quick charging. The battery can recoup 186 miles of range in just ten minutes. Audi says that charging times will eventually approach that of a conventional stop to refuel a car powered by an internal combustion engine.

The battery can be charged from 5 to 80 percent in less than 25 minutes. Audi expects a WLTP range of up to 750 kilometers (466 miles) for the urbansphere. 

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The urbansphere is actually the third concept EV from Audi, joining the Audi skysphere and Audi grandsphere, which were built to showcase the automaker's vision for the world of premium electric mobility.

The Audi skysphere concept, which debuted in August 2021, is Audi's vision of a vehicle that transforms into a self-driving sports car.

Following the skysphere, Audi unveiled the grandsphere concept, at the IAA 2021. It's a large four-seater sedan concept that defines the future of progressive luxury.

Although the urbansphere is a concept vehicle, its represents what the future of Audi luxury could become in the age of electric and autonomous mobility. We expect that many of these features will appear in future Audi models.


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