It was only last week that we had the chance to sample the world's first level 3 autonomous production vehicle, the Audi A8. Audi has today unveiled the Audi Elaine and Aicon concepts that further push the boundaries of vehicle autonomy.
Featuring 23-inch alloy wheels and the stance of an SUV, Elaine builds on the Audi e-tron Sportback concept with the addition of autonomous driving equipment. Measuring in at 4.9 metres and 1.98 metres wide, the Elaine concept sits around the same dimensions as the A7.
Just like the recently revealed Audi A8, the interior features touchscreens with haptic feedback, while the wing mirrors are cameras, which project their display on to the door panels.
Lighting comes in the form of Matrix LEDs, but most interesting is a dynamic LED lighting channel that projects light on to the road using Miniscule Digital Matrix projects. This is designed to help indicate to other drivers when the vehicle is in its autonomous mode.
Powering the Elaine is a tri-motor electric configuration that houses one motor at the front and two at the rear. Producing 320kW of power (and up to 370kW of power during overboost), the Elaine will sprint from 0-100km/h in just 4.5 seconds.
With a 95kWh battery pack on board, it's capable of travelling some 500km with two charging options — fast charging at 150kW or wireless inductive charging.
Where the Elaine steps up the game is with its level 4 autonomy features.
Featuring a more powerful version of Audi's zFAS controller, the car will be capable of extending the level 3 autonomy features of the A8 beyond 60km/h to 130km/h, where the car will be able to drive entirely on its own.
Elaine can change lanes automatically, pass other cars and even leave the highway and continue driving on its own. Arguably the coolest part, though, is that it can be left in an AI (Artificial Intelligence) Zone, where the car can leave and do things on its own.
These include things like car parks, the car wash, a parking garage or even away to a remote area without you inside the car.
It's exciting stuff and comes in a car with an impressive concept design. Being an Audi, it's likely to be somewhat more sedate when it's finally launched.
The Audi Aicon concept is where the game is really stepped up. This level 5 autonomous concept vehicle gives you an indication of where Audi wants to go with its autonomous technology.
The key difference between level 4 and level 5 is that level 5 doesn't use a steering wheel or pedals, meaning you are just a passenger.
Measuring 5.44m in length, 2.1m in width and 1.5m high, the big car sits has a wheelbase some 200mm longer than the longest version of the Audi A8. It's designed primarily to move people in style and comfort.
The interior is an incredible place to be seated with wood material wrapping around the cabin and capacitive touch screens on the doors and at the front.
There is also a projector controlled by a tablet that allows television and other key items to be displayed, projected on the windscreen in front of the passengers.
Headlights and tail lights are gone, instead replaced by an incredible fully digital display surface that houses hundreds of triangular pixel segments.
And, at the rear, there are more than 600 3D pixels arranged in a space that can display any combination of lights and colours.
That means that traditional daytime running lights that are a singular colour and shape can now be anything...only limited by the imagination.
Audi's other key concept change with this car is that the digital displays at the front and rear don't act as headlights. Instead, this car won't need lights to see at night because it uses lasers, radar and sonar to see and feel its way around the space.
Being a people mover, two storage spaces (one at the front and one at the rear) cater for a combined 660 litres of cargo capacity, making this a versatile luxury people hauler.
Audi thinks that with vehicles like the Aicon on the road, seat belts will be a thing of the past because the car will be smart enough to stop and prevent accidents.
Powered by four electric motors (one attached to each wheel), producing 260kW of power and 550Nm of torque. the focus is on efficiency rather than all-out power.
Audi says this drivetrain is capable of a driving range of between 700 to 800km, with charging over an 800V electrical system capable of charging up to 80 per cent of the vehicle's capacity within 30 minutes.
If you're wondering why the wheels look so strange, it's because the brake discs are moved closer to the electric motors, which means less need for cooling and aerodynamic ducting.
Sure, it's still strictly a concept, but it's an exciting time ahead for Audi and the greater automotive world.
What do you think of the Elaine and Aicon concepts? Click on the Photos tab to see the full gallery.