Auto companies – particularly German ones – are taking infotainment systems to the next level at this year's CES. Bosch has set the driver afloat in a sea of displays; BMW has updated its sporty i8 plug-in with next-gen screen technologies; and Volkswagen has revived the classic Microbus (sort of) to showcase its own ideas about the future of in-vehicle infotainment. Audi is getting in on the action with a new AMOLED-based virtual dashboard concept and also previews a few upcoming autonomous technologies.
Though it calls it the virtual "dashboard," Audi hasn't transformed the entire dashboard into one big digital display space, the way Bosch has. Instead, it's kept things a little more familiar with a 14.1-in curved AMOLED virtual cockpit in front of the driver and dual-touchscreen MMI in the center console. The MMI includes an upper infotainment widescreen and lower handwriting and settings control screen. The CES interior mockup is based on the interior of the e-tron quattro concept and is virtually indistinguishable from that cockpit, save for the fact that it doesn't have a blue concept car around it.
More of an evolutionary step than a full rethink, ala Volkswagen's Budd-e HMI, Audi's system supports natural, familiar gestures borrowed from touchscreen-based consumer electronics and adapted for smooth, intuitive automobile use. Haptic feedback helps ensure more reliable control.
The multi-display HMI is backed by MIB2+, a more powerful refinement of Audi's second-generation Modular Infotainment Platform. With the upgraded electronics architecture, Audi claims to be the first automaker offering support of the LTE Advanced communications standard, giving its connected hardware about three times the speed of Audi's current-generation MIB2, with 300 Mbps download and 50 Mbps upload capabilities. MIB2+ also offers improved voice control capabilities by running commands through both onboard and cloud-based voice recognition systems for better accuracy and performance. Voice over LTE (VoLTE) support provides for clearer, more reliable voice calls.
"The interior of the future will radically alter the way our customers operate and experience things in the vehicle," says Ricky Hudi, Audi executive VP of electronic development. "We are developing our successful Audi virtual cockpit into the Audi virtual dashboard and creating an entirely new world of experience for our customers. In the future, the entire system will get to know the customer and their habits and preferences, then proactively support them."
Audi plans to rely on the recently acquired HERE mapping database for its evolving driver support and automated technology suite. In conjunction with BMW and Daimler, Audi completed the purchase of HERE from Nokia last month. HERE's high-precision roadway and infrastructure mapping will be paramount to future driver services and autonomous features.
"HERE provides the foundation for new infotainment, connectivity and assistance systems, an excellent database for further extending our lead in the field of piloted driving," explains Hudi.
Audi will soon start mixing more real-time information with this raw mapping data, relying on several car-to-x features to feed information back and forth between sensor-equipped cars and infrastructure. Audi's first car-to-x features will launch later this year.
The "traffic sign information" system will be offered first on select-market 2017 Q7 and A4 models, allowing cars to read speed limit markings with the onboard camera and send them to the central server, where they will be analyzed and sent out to other properly equipped Audi vehicles. The driver and driver-assistance systems will be kept informed about speed limit information so they can adjust for safer, more efficient commutes.
Perhaps even more useful, a new hazard information feature will also be launching on select-market 2017 Q7 and A4 models. This feature allows cars to identify and communicate information about road hazards like black ice, fog and traffic incidents to other vehicles.
The forthcoming traffic light information system will pull traffic light information from a central computer to help the driver hit green lights.
All the aforementioned features and equipment are certainly worth a look at a technology show like CES, but none of them have the wow factor of something like an FFZERO1 or Budd-e. To help compensate, Audi's CES booth complements these newsworthy but low-flash technologies with a few full vehicles, including the e-tron quattro concept and the R8 V10 plus. Audi is also highlighting Matrix OLED and laser lighting technologies.