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Audi’s new concept is an all-electric off-roader with drones for headlights

Audi is not a brand you’d typically associate with off-road adventures, but that didn’t stop the automaker from kicking up some dirt with its new concept at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show. The Audi AI:Trail (maybe it’s less of a mouthful in German?) is an all-electric, all-terrain vehicle for the future of outdoor adventures.

Before we get to the specs, keep in mind this is just a concept and may not ever make its way to production. That said, Audi’s parent company, Volkswagen, claims it will actually build the electric dune buggy concept it introduced earlier this year — so who knows for sure?

The AI:Trail is fourth in a series of autonomous concepts from Audi, preceded by the Audi AI:Con, AI:Me, and AI:Race. It’s definitely an “everything and the kitchen sink” type concept: big, chunky 22-inch wheels; a powerful battery with 400 to 500 kilometers (248.5 to 310.7 miles) of off-road range; huge, wraparound windshield; hammock-style rear seats; a phone port on the steering column; suicide doors; and on-road Level 4 autonomous capabilities (meaning the vehicle can drive itself within a defined geographic area).

The AI:Trail’s drivetrain consists of four electric motors with a 320-kilowatt output and a maximum torque of 1,000 Newton-meters (737.6 lb-ft). That should be more than enough to zip over any steep hill or kick up gravel along an unpaved road.

Trying to shoe-horn autonomy in an off-road vehicle sounds like a nightmare, but Audi explains that the AI:Trail’s self-driving system isn’t meant to be used exclusively off the beaten path — just to enhance the experience of driving in more natural environments.

“The data for friction values and slip, longitudinal and lateral acceleration provide the electronics with all necessary parameters they need in order to optimize drive stability,” Audi says.

Oh, did I mention this thing has drones for headlights? Let’s let Audi explain itself here:

Instead of conventional low beams and high beams, the Audi AI:TRAIL is equipped with a total of five rotorless, triangular, electrically operated drones with integrated matrix LED elements. They are capable of landing on a roof rack or directly on the roof of the vehicle, and docking onto the inductive charging elements.

The flying objects are Audi Light Pathfinders, which generate their lift in the same way as bladeless fans produce their air flow. Thanks to their markedly lightweight design, they can fly ahead of the AI:TRAIL, consuming comparably little energy in the process, and illuminate the path ahead, thereby replacing headlights entirely. If desired, the on-board cameras generate a video image that can be transmitted to the display in front of the driver via Wi-Fi, turning the Pathfinders into eyes in the sky.

Yeah, that’s right: drones that fly ahead of the vehicle to light the way. Extravagant? Absolutely. Impractical? Most certainly. Nonetheless rad as hell? You bet.


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