The Off-Roader from the future – The new Audi AI

Exploration and expedition vehicles have been, for a long time, associated with traditional, rough and oil-driven 4×4 trucks. Audi AI is presenting a concept to introduce highly technological, drone integrated, sustainable and futuristic vehicles for outdoors enthusiasts.

At IAA 2019, Audi is showing the concept of study for an electrically driven off-roader of the future. With this last addition to the AI series, Audi is completing a quartet of visionary automobiles.

The Audi AI: TRAIL Quattro united automated driving with superb off-road capabilities. Glass windows compose most of the cabin, surrounding and extending the passengers’ field of view from sky to ground level, providing unrivaled scenic landscape reverie. The high battery capacity ensures a sufficient range necessary for a vehicle meant to stay away from networks of charging stations.

Audi AI: TRAIL Quattro under watefall

The “Trail” evokes the idea of exploring nature. That is the reason why there are no big screens onboard for streaming TV series or videoconferencing.

Marc Lichte, Audi’s Head of Design, explains: “With the AI: TRAIL, we are showing an off-road concept with an emissions-free electric drive for an innovative driving experience away from paved roads. Consistent with this, we designed a monolithic basic vehicle body with maximum glazing to create an intense connection to the surroundings. A concept for sustainable mobility on demand.”

The goal of the designers at Audi was to give the passengers the best possible view of nature and their surroundings, breaking the boundaries between the interior and the world outside. When the vehicle is moving, the occupants’ gaze is not solely focused on the road or terrain ahead but is free to wander upon the open spaces around.

Audi AI: TRAIL Quattro interior front

The interior of the Audi AI: TRAIL is sleek and spacious, with very few visible control elements. There are two comfortable and delicate seats in the front row, both equipped with four-point seat belts. Light colors dominate the interior space as to make the openness of the outside world appear even more present; the occupant’s eye is drawn to the large glass areas from the front to side sections, as well as being guided through the almost fully glazed roof.

Audi AI: TRAIL Quattro top view

Entering the vehicle, simplicity is striking: the number of elements for the interaction between the driver and the vehicle are the absolute minimum. Pedals, a sportive steering wheel and a smartphone dock as the display center for the vehicle’s functions are all you need.

Audi AI: TRAIL Quattro comand

The color concept is composed of gray surfaces and earthy tones emphasizing the connection between the interior and the surrounding nature. Rough, granular surfaces indicate functional qualities and add a sense of touch. Smooth wool felt in the luggage compartment creates a soft and cozy contrast. Audi designers focused on the use of recycled materials in the AI: TRAIL, using reprocessed wool with recycled leather, both of which are sustainable and durable, as well as having excellent acoustic and climatic properties.

Audi AI: TRAIL Quattro interior back

The storage space between the seats and under the windshield is complemented with tensioning straps in order to secure any stored object, which can also be loaded from the outside through the upward folding windshield. Seat belt retractors ensure that the tensioning straps always have optimal tension.

The back row features an oddity: two seats designed like hammocks. Consisting of a tensioned fabric form, the seats afford a comfortable resting surface, backrest and even provide lateral support. These seats can be taken out of the AI: TRAIL and used as mobile outdoor chairs.

Audi AI: TRAIL Quattro hammock seats

Instead of traditional low and high beam headlights, the Audi AI: TRAIL is equipped with five bladeless, triangular, electrically operated drones with integrated matrix LED elements. Docked onto the inductive charging elements on the roof rack of the vehicle, the drones are always ready for shining.

The flying objects are Audi Light Pathfinders, which generate their lift similarly to bladeless fans. Their lightweight and efficient design lets the Pathfinders fly ahead of the AI: TRAIL, consuming comparably little energy in the process, illuminating the path ahead, thereby replacing headlights entirely. With a recording option, the cameras generate a video image that can be transmitted to the display in front of the driver via Wi-Fi, turning the Pathfinders into an aerial visualization device.

Audi AI: TRAIL Quattro lighting drones

When the AI: TRAIL is parked, the drones can also illuminate the surrounding area from their position on the roof. Such as when the occupants are enjoying the outdoors next to the vehicle. They can also illuminate the interior through the transparent panoramic roof if the occupants prefer to remain inside the vehicle.

The drones are coordinated fully automatically by the AI: TRAIL, and usually fly in pairs. If necessary, they can also provide additional light around the vehicle by coming together to form groups of up to five drones. The occupants can simply use control software on their smartphones to set their desired scenario. 

The Audi Light Companion is a personal light emission device that is shaped like a large flashlight but has a much more extensive range of functions. It is magnetically attached to the front side of the seat, acting as ambient lighting. However, you can take the Light Companion when leaving the AI: TRAIL, and this is when it really shows its full potential. Designed as a tripod, the light companion can be used as a campfire light or a close-range floodlight. The devices also accommodates several cameras that can scan the way ahead or take videos of the scenery.

Audi AI: TRAIL Quattro lighting devices

What is already established in rail transportation and aviation is now at the threshold of a breakthrough in automotive transportation: automated driving. The Audi AI: TRAIL is designed for self-driving on roads up to level 4. 

Level 4 is the second-highest level on a standardized international scale for increasing automation. Level 4 allows for a complete driverless experience in highways or metropolitan areas equipped with suitable infrastructure. In these places, the driver can completely transfer the task of driving to the system, regaining control only when the car leaves one of these areas. The Audi AI: TRAIL is therefore equipped with the traditional steering wheel and pedals. 

The driver will need to control the vehicle when going off-road. After all, although even unpaved dirt tracks and forest paths have been mapped extensively through digital cartography, the way off-road surfaces frequently erode makes them too variable to allow for reliable automated driving.

Audi AI: TRAIL Quattro front desert
Audi AI: TRAIL Quattro back desert
Audi AI: TRAIL Quattro profile and back
Audi AI: TRAIL Quattro profile and scenery

Undergraduate student of Industrial Design at NABA, Milano. Thinker, doer and outdoors enthusiast. Understanding the world in order to help the shift towards a sustainable planet through design and every day action.