Audi has certainly been busy letting the collective imagination run wild. Not content with its current crop of models, it’s got both eyes on the future with this latest suggestion for the future of autonomous vehicles: the Audi Urbansphere.
It follows on from the Audi Skysphere and Grandsphere concepts, the former being a self-driving EV roadster with a variable wheelbase that allows it to transform itself from a comfortable grand tourer into an agile sports car, and the latter a large four-seater saloon that drives you around in luxurious silence.
Both these, and the Urbansphere are based on level 4 autonomous vehicle technology and Audi is currently working to introduce this technology within the second half of the decade. Whether or not the necessary infrastructure and legal framework for this level of autonomous driving will have been settled in time is another subject, but Audi looks like it will be ready to go sooner rather than later.
So where exactly does the Audi Urbansphere fit in?
Apparently it’s a self-driving lounge on wheels and a mobile office and a luxurious and private space to spend a commute. Audi’s words, not ours.
It’s also enormous - 5.5m long and 2m wide kind of enormous – and it’s got clever door hinges so there’s no B-pillar to obstruct the panoramic view; and the seats swivel and recline like the ones you see in the fancy airline adverts; and there’s glass everywhere; and it’s a mobile technology centre.
You probably get the idea.
It’s a concept so it’s bound to contain a little bit of imagination that probably won’t get past the accountants. But that aside, it’s an interesting take on the possibilities of autonomous vehicles. Remove the need to actually drive it – the Urbansphere can still be driven manually, although whether the retractable pedals and wheel make it into a production version remains to be seen – and you can really open up the interior space in ways we wouldn’t currently associate with a car.
Granted, it all sounds a bit sci-fi, but the only real constraint to concept vehicles like this is whether or not they are economically viable to build. And underneath the Urbansphere there is a realistically solid base to build on. The platform the Urbansphere is built on was designed exclusively for battery-electric drive systems. The battery module between the axles holds around 120 kilowatt hours of energy, and the flat layout of the battery provides a lower centre of gravity and balanced weight distribution, as well as freeing up space in the interior for extra legroom.
The Audi Urbansphere’s two electric motors are capable of delivering almost 400bhp and huge piles of torque so it will feel like a high-end Audi. One motor on each axle allows Audi to give it permanent quattro four-wheel drive which is an essential feature with that much power. One innovative feature is that the motor on the front axle can be deactivated to reduce friction and lower energy consumption when coasting.
Charging the Urbansphere should be a doddle too. The 800-volt charging technology and a fast charger means 10 minutes are enough to add 186 miles of range. It can be charged from five to 80 percent in less than 25 minutes, and according to WLTP figures it should offer a range of up to 460 miles. Those are the kind of figures that are going to make any lingering concerns over the convenience of filling up with fuel versus charging an EV disappear.
Whether the Audi Urbansphere rolls off a production line looking like this remains to be seen. What it does show is that the technology already exists to start building cars that people in the 1950s imagined we’d all be driving in the 21st Century. All we need now are the robots to clean the house….
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