Audi has developed an autonomously driven concept vehicle that it says addresses the need for comfortable travel in Chinese megacities where personal space is in short supply. The concept – called the Audi ‘urbansphere’ – offers the largest interior space of any Audi to date.
Audi says its designers and engineers have created the Audi urbansphere primarily for use in traffic of Chinese megacities. In addition to the voluminous interior space, the concept car offers technologies and digital services that Audi claims appeal to all the senses and thus offer a new quality of experience.
The car’s development process took place in close collaboration between Audi’s design studios in Beijing and its headquarters in Ingolstadt. For the first time, potential customers in China also took part, contributing their own desires and experiences to the development process (known as “co-creation”).
Audi says the spacious automobile acts as a lounge on wheels and mobile office – the vehicle serves as a third living space during the hours spent in traffic. To this end, the Audi urbansphere combines the luxury of complete privacy with a comprehensive range of high-tech features on board, even during the daily rush hour. Level 4 automated driving technology transforms the interior without a steering wheel, pedals, or displays into a mobile interactive space that opens up to the offerings of a comprehensive digital ecosystem.
Audi is developing a number of concepts under the ‘sphere’ umbrella – Audi skysphere, Audi grandsphere, and Audi urbansphere. They are designed to showcase its vision of the premium mobility of tomorrow.
In August 2021, Audi debuted the electrically-powered skysphere concept roadster – the spectacular vision of an autonomous GT that transforms itself into a self-driving sports car with a variable wheelbase.
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Just a few weeks later, Audi unveiled the second model in the sphere series, the Audi grandsphere concept, at the IAA 2021.
What both concept cars have in common with the Audi urbansphere is that the entire concept is derived from the ability to drive in a level 4 autonomous vehicle. This is a technology that Audi is working towards introducing in the second half of the decade together with CARIAD, the Volkswagen Group’s software think tank.
The Audi urbansphere concept is the largest model in the sphere family and largest of all Audi concept cars to date. Its dimensions are: 5,510mm long, 2,010mm wide, and 1,780mm tall.
There’s a wheelbase of 3,400mm. Audi claims the interior of the Audi urbansphere is not subject to the conventional maxim of squeezing as many seats, storage compartments, and functional elements as possible into a space limited by the physics of driving. Instead, it “primarily responds to the passengers’ need to be able to experience generous space as a distinctive element of comfort”.
The Audi urbansphere offers everyone on board a wide variety of options to use the freedom to enjoy customizable experiences – communication or relaxation, work, or a retreat into a private sphere when desired. The autonomous Audi urbansphere concept picks up its passengers at home and independently takes care of finding a parking space and charging the battery.
Customized infotainment offerings are also available, such as the seamless integration of onboard streaming from music and video providers the customer already uses. In an additional step, Audi will make personalized and exclusive options available in the future – concerts, cultural events, or even sporting events that customers will be invited to.
The architecture – from the inside out
The word “sphere” is designed to communicate that it is no longer the powertrain or the driving dynamics that are at the top of the list of requirements for this new generation of cars. Instead, the interior becomes the foundation for design and technology. And this means that it transforms into the passenger’s sphere of life and experience on the road. Their needs and desires shape the space, its architecture, and all of the integrated functions. As a result of this shift, the design process itself also changes. At the beginning of all discussions, the focus is on the interior. Only then are the package, exterior lines and proportions designed.
The doors of the Audi urbansphere concept are counter-hinged at the front and the rear; there is no B-pillar. As a result, the whole world of the interior opens up to passengers as soon as they climb in. Seats that swivel outward and a red carpet of light projected onto the ground next to the vehicle transform the simple act of entering the car into an experience of comfort, it is claimed.
Four individual seats in two rows offer passengers luxurious first-class comfort. The seats in the rear offer generous dimensions and 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 centre-mounted armrests integrated into the sides of the seats and their counterparts in the doors create a comforting feeling of security, Audi says.
The seats also cater to the changing social needs of passengers in a variety of ways. While conversing, passengers can turn to face each other on their swivelling seats. On the other hand, those who want some seclusion can conceal their head area from the person next to them using a privacy screen mounted behind the headrest. In addition, each seat has its own sound zone with speakers in the headrest area. Individual monitors are also built into the backs of the front seats.
When passengers want to use the infotainment system together, on the other hand, there is a large-format and transparent OLED screen that pivots vertically from the roof area into the zone between the rows of seats. Using this “cinema screen,” which occupies the entire width of the interior, the two passengers in the back row can take part in a video conference together or watch a movie. Even split-screen use is possible. When the screen is not in use, it offers a clear view to the front thanks to its transparent design –or when folded upwards –also through the glass roof area to the sky.
The steering wheel, pedals, and conventional dashboard can be hidden during automated driving.
When it comes to all operating modes, including eye-tracking, gesture or voice control, and touch, the Audi urbansphere concept adapts to the respective user and learns their preferences as well as frequently used functions – and on this basis can not only usefully supplement rudimentary commands, but also make individual suggestions to the user itself.
Control panels are even integrated into the armrests on the doors. That way, the car always offers passengers invisible touch surfaces using an optic indicator to show its position. At the same time, there are VR glasses in the armrests on the left and right doors that can be used in conjunction with infotainment options – for instance for the Holoride system.
Many of the materials in the interior of the Audi urbansphere concept, such as the hornbeam veneers, come from sustainable sources. This wood makes it possible to use wood that has grown close to the site, and the entire trunk can be utilized. During processing, the manufacturers do not use any chemicals.
The seat padding is made of ECONYL, a recycled polyamide. This material can also be recycled after its use in the automobile – without any loss of quality. The fact that the respective materials are installed separately also plays an important role in the ability to recycle them, as mixing them would drastically reduce the potential for recycling.
Bamboo viscose fabric is used in the armrests and the rear of the vehicle. Bamboo grows faster than ordinary wood, sequesters a great deal of carbon, and doesn’t require herbicides or pesticides to grow.
Drive system and charging
The technology platform of the Audi urbansphere – the Premium Platform Electric or PPE – was designed exclusively for battery-electric drive systems. A key element of the PPE is a battery module between the axles, which – as in the Audi grandsphere – holds around 120 kWh of energy. Audi has succeeded in achieving a flat layout for the battery by using almost the entire base of the vehicle between the axles.
The concept car has one electric motor each on the front and rear axles which implement the permanently available all-wheel drive as required. An additional feature is that the motor on the front axle can be deactivated as required in order to reduce friction and thus energy consumption when coasting.
Fast charging, high range
The heart of the drive system is the 800-volt charging technology. It ensures that the battery can be charged with up to 270 kW at fast-charging stations in the shortest possible time. As such, charging times are approaching those of a conventional stop to refuel a car powered by an internal combustion engine, as just 10 minutes are enough to charge the battery to a level sufficient to power the car more than 300 kilometres (186 miles). In addition, the battery, which holds more than 120 kWh, can be charged from 5 to 80 percent in less than 25 minutes. This means that a range of up to 750 kilometres (466 miles) can be expected acing to the WLTP standard – and even when used for more energy-intensive city and short-distance trips, it is generally possible to avoid making unexpected stops to charge, Audi says.