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Audi has shared its vision for the future of motoring and if it is anything to go by we could see a world with super safe and fully autonomous cars that arrive on command and constantly monitor drivers then adapts itself to keep us healthy and happy behind the wheel.
It all sounds a bit utopian but this is the goal Audi is working towards and boldly put its stamp on the idea at CES in Las Vegas where the German carmaker unveiled its futuristic e-tron quattro. This electric concept car comes packed with new technologies including Piloted Driving, which takes positive steps towards self-driving cars by autonomously taking over on highways, car parks and traffic jams.
We attended an Audi tech talk with the company's most influential members of staff including President of Audi America, Scott Keogh, and Executive VP of electronic development, Rudi Hudi. At the conference they revealed their hopes for the Quattro e-tron, that it could be a "Tesla fighter" – a car known for its cutting-edge technology and already offering autonomous ability.
When asked what else Audi had under its R&D bonnet, Thomas Muller, head of braking, steering and driver assistance systems described how Audi's cars of the future will be able to let drivers kick back in traffic jams by taking over and letting drivers watch entertainment on its built-in televisions, as well as being able to park itself into your garage or find you when you summon to be picked up.
In the future, Audi models will not feature any reflective wing or rearview mirrors either, rather opting for more high-tech OLED television screens. Audi is opting for OLED rather than TFT displays like some manufacturers are rolling out because it does not use a backlight. Therefore these virtual mirrors will not have a distracting illumination when driving at night. The screens will also be able to display night vision imagery and offer heads-up information traditional mirrors are unable to provide.
Audi's future cars: FitDriver keeps track of driver's health
Muller revealed Audi cars will constantly monitor drivers to check on their health and wellbeing while behind the wheel, then will adapt how it drives accordingly. He explains "a vast number of people are owners of wearable technology that are synced to the cloud, so why not link this to the car". Audi announced its FitDriver – a system that knows exactly what the driver is doing and how they feel by monitoring their temperature, heart rate and driving style.
The car, should it sense the driver becoming stressed, will then activate a seat massage, adjust the interior temperature or give the driver de-stressing breathing techniques. The car could also analyse road conditions such as upcoming traffic and weather that might trigger some driver anger and suggest a calming pit stop. "Wearables can play a huge role to monitor the physics of the driver and adapt the car system," said Muller.
Audi's future cars: When will we see self-driving cars?
It is no secret Audi is working towards the fully autonomous driving future and when asked to put a timescale on when consumers can expect to see these cars rolled out we were told: "In a situation where there are cities with a mixed scenario of manual and autonomous cars, we expect the first fully autonomous cars will hit the road by the end of the next decade."
Perhaps an answer not as bold as Elon Musk's two-year prediction but rather more realistic considering what still needs to be achieved before this can happen. The transition to driverless cars is not going to be an overnight event. An Audi spokesman explained: "People think there will be this mythical light switch moment but like most tech adoption it migrates, it'll be more of a journey." Just as cruise control and lane assist slowly crept into cars, smart features will all eventually add up to a more autonomous drive.
The spokesman added: "Technology-wise when you go into an urban area there are kids and people crossing roads and traffic intersections. The cars and software need to understand everything or they'll be stuck at a crossroad for three hours." Audi is also working to counter legislation in some US states in the US which does not allow drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel.
Audi's future cars: Machine-learning for super-smart vehicles
Audi revealed it will be using machine-learning in its self-driving cars – something they claim is "the most disruptive technology in the whole [motoring] industry". Cars will constantly observe and learn with every mile it drives. This will enable cars to gauge situations "far better than humans or any driver that has ever existed", and means things like junctions will no longer pose a problem. Also, thanks to machine learning it will mean adverse weather conditions, such as snow, which can affect sensors will be less of a problem as cars will have a thorough understanding of the piece of tarmac it is traversing.
With almost every major motoring manufacturer getting behind the driverless revolution it is an exciting road map ahead. We might have to wait a few years for the technology to arrive as well as companies complying with road laws and the cars overcoming those inevitable teething difficulties first.