According to Audi, the future of autonomous driving is … reclined much of the time.
The German premium brand on Thursday introduced the Grandsphere, the second of three planned concept vehicles it says lay out a future for its products as it transitions to an all-electric lineup that will include models with Level 4 autonomous-driving capability. Brand executives said they intend to sell a Level 4-capable vehicle to consumers by 2026. The first concept, named Skysphere, was shown last month; the Urbansphere will be shown next year.
The Grandsphere, a large luxury sedan with two front-row seats and a rear bench, has two main highlights: the brand’s coming cat-eye LED exterior lighting signature and a bespoke interior that reimagines how the vehicle’s passengers will spend their time while the vehicle is driving itself.
Accessed via large portal doors, the spacious Grandsphere interior replaces the traditional huge blackened touch screen prevalent in most such luxury vehicles with one projected across a wooden substructure that wraps across the vehicle from door to door. The wheel and control functions are hidden behind a hinged panel in the dashboard and emerge only on command from the driver. Most of the concept’s functions are controlled by gesture, voice command or a distinct look from the driver that is picked up by the vehicle’s sensors.
With drivers freed from the task of actually controlling the vehicle, Audi’s designers equipped the Grandsphere with front seats that recline up to 60 degrees, allowing front-row passengers to fully relax while the vehicle drives itself, and entertaining them with music or videos on the broad screen. Audi says the interior transforms the automobile into an “experience device.”
While the Grandsphere is a concept, Oliver Hoffmann, a member of the Audi board of management for development, says the concept shows how the industry must rethink its entire design process for EVs and autonomous driving.
“Highly autonomous driving is a game changer, because it means we are developing and designing cars from the inside out,” Hoffmann explained.
“With autonomous driving, one key element changes dramatically: The driver need not have the wheel in his hands all the time. That turns the car into a lounge,” he said through an interpreter. “We give the customer time to relax, to work, to entertain themselves. The car becomes the biggest mobile device you can imagine. And that offers huge new possibilities.”