Systematically designed from the inside out – Audi is presenting the Audi urbansphere concept car. Designers and engineers have created the Audi urbansphere primarily for use in traffic of Chinese megacities. In these metropolitan areas, where personal space is in particularly short supply, the concept car offers the largest interior space of any Audi to date. In addition, it intelligently coordinates this with technologies and digital services that appeal to all the senses and thus offer a new quality of experience.
The 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”).
The result of this process can be seen in the Audi urbansphere concept, above all in the interior. As such, 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 sphere – first class to the power of three
Audi skysphere, Audi grandsphere, and Audi urbansphere are the three concept cars that the brand with the four rings is using to showcase its vision of the premium mobility of tomorrow. Audi is creating a vehicle experience that goes far beyond the purpose of merely spending time in a car to get from point A to point B.
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.
Just a few weeks later, Audi unveiled the second model in the sphere series, the Audi grandsphere concept, at the IAA 2021. This large, prestigious four-seater saloon exemplified the brand’s ambition to define the future of progressive luxury.
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
Even at first glance, the Audi urbansphere concept reveals itself as the largest model in the sphere family, indeed of all Audi concept cars to date. Its grand dimensions – 5,510mm long, 2,010mm wide, and 1,780mm tall – place it in the upper echelons of the automotive world, yet the Audi urbansphere concept radically breaks with the conventions of the segment.
This is because it has been systematically designed from the inside out, as it were, around its passengers. Consequently, the most important dimension for passengers is the unrivalled wheelbase of 3,400mm. 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 not only frees the driver from the burden of driving whenever possible, but at the same time offers everyone on board a wide variety of options to use this freedom to enjoy customizable experiences – communication or relaxation, work, or a retreat into a private sphere when desired. The Audi urbansphere concept itself also transforms from merely an automobile into a platform for groundbreaking experiences.
Thanks to Audi’s own options and the ability to integrate digital services from other providers, the possibilities are nearly endless. These can be used to access a wide range of services related to the current trip. The vehicle also takes care of everyday tasks that go beyond the ride itself – such as making dinner reservations or shopping online from the car. In addition, 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” in the name already suggests that the focus of the Audi skysphere, grandsphere, and urbansphere concept cars is on the inner space, the interior. 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 this 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, which, together with the technological specifications, turn the automobile into a complete work of art.
Surface, form, function – the interior
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.
A wheelbase of 3,400mm and a vehicle width of 2,010mm delineate what is a more than stately footprint, even for a luxury-class automobile. Together with 1,780mm of headroom and expansive glass surfaces, these dimensions result in an exceptionally spacious experience of the interior – both subjectively and objectively.
Four individual seats in two rows offer passengers luxurious first-class comfort. The seats in the rear offer particularly 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.
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.
Like in the Audi grandsphere concept, the interior of the urbansphere blends space and architecture, digital technology, and authentic materials into a single entity. The lines emphasize the vehicle’s horizontal proportions.
The open, wide interior supports the impression of a one-of-a-kind space. The steering wheel, pedals, and conventional dashboard can be hidden during automated driving, which enhances the feeling of transparency and spaciousness.
The seating surfaces and backs of the two seats with integrated seat belts are visually separate. Between the rear seats – normally locked in place in a low position – is a centre console that swivels upwards. It contains a water dispenser and glasses – another testament to the Audi urbansphere concept’s first-class credentials.
The Audi urbansphere also qualifies as a wellness zone thanks to innovative digital options that emerged in no small part as a result of the input from the co-creation process with Chinese customers. Stress detection is a prime example – this adaptive program uses facial scans and voice analysis to determine how passengers are feeling and offers each of them individual ways to relax, for example with a meditation app that can be used via the personal screen and the private sound zone in the headrests.
Less is more –displays and operation
In the Audi urbansphere, simplicity has become a design principle. Neither batteries of circular instruments nor black screens for virtual display concepts are visible before activating the driving functions.
Instead, passengers find clearly structured and calm zones composed of materials of the highest quality. Wood and wool as well as synthetic textile fabrics serve as panelling, seat coverings, and floor carpets, all of which have a high-quality feel and are pleasant to the touch.
Soft beige and grey tones structure the interior horizontally. A dark, toned-down green serves as the colour of the seat shells and soothes the eye. The interior colour zones become lighter from top to bottom and, together with the natural light entering the space, create a homogeneous, wide interior.
It almost comes as a surprise that, when the vehicle comes to life at a simple tap of the finger, there are displays at all – albeit in the form of projections on the wooden surfaces below the windshield. Depending on the driving status – whether manual with a steering wheel or level 4 – they are either distributed across the entire width of the interior or segmented for the driver and front seat passenger. All the information needed during the journey can be viewed in ultra-fine resolution.
In addition, a sensor bar is integrated under the projection surfaces for quick switching between content – for instance, for music or navigation. It shows all the functions and applications that are active in the car. Icons flash for the different menus.
One particular, extremely innovative control element is located near the door cut-out on the interior cladding: the MMI touchless response. If the driver or passenger is sitting in the upright position, far forward in his or her respective area, they can use this element to physically select various function menus via a rotating ring and buttons and click their way through the individual levels. A simple, intuitive operation.
If, on the other hand, the seatback is reclined far back, passengers still do not have to forgo the use of this convenient feature. This is because in this position, they can use a combination of eye-tracking and gesture control. A sensor directed at the eye detects the line of sight when the control unit is to be engaged. And the passenger only needs to make analogous hand motions – without leaning over – that are similar to physical operation and can use the system just as well that way – without touching a thing.
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.
Sustainability as a guiding principle
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.
Space concept for the luxury class – exterior design
A grand, and undoubtedly self-assured, appearance – one’s first encounter with the Audi urbansphere concept is certain to leave an impression. A length of five and a half metres, its height of almost 1,780mm, and its width of more than two metres are undoubtedly prestigious enough to rub shoulders with the automotive elite.
The flowing silhouette of the vehicle body features traditional Audi shapes and elements, but are combined here to create a new composition – the distinctive Singleframe with the digital eyes of the adjacent lighting units. Viewed from the side, is the widely curved, dynamic roof arch, a massive sill that conceals the battery unit, and large 24-inch wheels. They reference an icon of the 90s – the Audi Avus concept car. The six double spokes simultaneously convey lightweight design and stability, reminiscent of functional motorsport wheels and the Bauhaus tradition of the brand’s design.
The implied wedge shape of the vehicle body is emphasized by the large, flat windshield. At the front and also at the rear, there are large digital lighting surfaces that leave their mark on the design and at the same time serve as communication elements.
The Audi urbansphere defies classification into conventional vehicle categories. Nevertheless, it reveals itself to be a typical Audi at first glance. The similarities to the Audi grandsphere concept are particularly eye-catching. The monolithic design of the vehicle body is common to these two concept cars, as is the sculpted, soft shape of the wheel arches. A long wheelbase of well over three metres and short overhangs indicate that this is an electric vehicle. Elegance, dynamism, an organic design language – these are the attributes that immediately spring to mind despite the stately proportions of the Audi urbansphere, just as they do in the significantly flatter grandsphere.
Visible technology – light
The front end features an innovative interpretation of the Singleframe that defines Audi’s look – it is shaped like a large octagon. Even though the grille has lost its original function as an air intake on the EV, it still remains prominent as an unmistakable signature of the brand. The digital light surface lies behind a slightly tinted, transparent visor that covers a large area of the front. The three-dimensional light structure itself is arranged in dynamically condensed pixel areas. The upper and lower edges of the Singleframe are still made of aluminium, the vertical connections are formed by the LEDs as part of the light surface.
The entire surface of the Singleframe becomes a stage or canvas (known as the “Audi Light Canvas”) and can be used for communication – with dynamic lighting effects to clearly signal to other road users in order to improve road safety. Low beams and high beams are implemented via light segments in the outer sections of the Singleframe. A similarly functioning matrix LED surface is located in the rear.
The lighting units to the right and left of the Singleframe look narrow, like focused eyes. These digital lighting units, known as Audi Eyes, echo the logo of the brand with the four rings, as they enlarge and isolate the intersection of two rings to form a pupil – a new, unmistakable digital light signature.
The illuminated surfaces – and therefore the expression of the eyes – can be adapted to the traffic situation, environment, or even the mood of the passengers. As a daytime running light, the gaze can be focused or open, and the iris can be narrow or wide. A digitally created eyebrow also functions as a dynamic turn signal when required. Thanks to their outstanding visibility, they make an unmistakable statement in favour of safety.
A special tribute to China, is a luminous accessory that passengers can take with them when they leave their Audi urbansphere – the Audi Light Umbrella, a self-illuminating umbrella. Inspired by traditional Chinese umbrellas, this one acts as a protective companion and multifunctional light source – the inner skin of the umbrella is made of reflective material, so the entire surface acts as a glare-free lighting unit.
The Audi Light Umbrella not only gives users a better view of their path, but they also become more visible – when crossing a street or in dangerous situations, it activates a rhythmic flashing of the luminous cone by means of artificial intelligence and sophisticated sensor technology.
And the Light Umbrella also literally places its wearer in the best possible light, because it evenly illuminates their face for perfect selfies whenever needed.
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 and therefore takes full advantage of all the benefits of this technology. The 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.
Together with the large 24-inch wheels, this produces basic proportions that are perfect not only from a design perspective. The core benefits include a long interior and therefore legroom in both rows of seats. Additionally, the absence of a gearbox cover and a cardan tunnel increases spatial comfort in electric cars.
The Audi urbansphere concept’s two electric motors are capable of delivering a total output of 295 kW (401ps) and a system torque of 690Nm. These are impressive figures that are often not fully utilized when driving as part of a convoy in urban traffic. Nevertheless, the Audi urbansphere is still equipped with quattro permanent four-wheel drive – an essential feature for the brand’s high-performance models.
The concept car has one electric motor each on the front and rear axles which, by means of electronic coordination, implement the permanently available all-wheel drive as required and, above all, with a view to economy and range. An innovative 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.
Air suspension for maximum comfort
The front wheels are connected via a five-link axle that has been specially optimized for electric vehicles. In the rear, there is a multi-link axle that, like the front, is made of lightweight aluminium. Despite the long 3,400mm wheelbase, the steerable rear wheels provide excellent manoeuvrability. The Audi urbansphere concept, like its closest relative the grandsphere, features Audi adaptive air suspension –a single-chamber air suspension with semi-active damper control. It offers outstanding comfort not only on city highways but even on the uneven, often patched asphalt of downtown streets with no noticeable body movement.
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