As automobiles gain increasing autonomy and their occupants spend less time actively paying attention to the task of driving, Audi is reimagining the role of the vehicle’s cabin space — from a rigid, safety-centered, face-forward setup to a more open, communal design. The automaker showcased this evolution in its new Urbansphere EV concept, which it unveiled on Tuesday.
The Urbansphere is the third in a trifecta of futuristic Audi EV concepts. It joins the Skysphere — a 623-HP EV roadster announced last August reminiscent of the Disco-era Chevy Camaro or Jaguar XJ6 — and the Grandsphere touring coupe announced in September. All three are built with level 4 autonomous vehicle technology in mind, a project that Audi is collaborating on with CARIAD, Volkswagen Group’s software business. The hope is to get to market in the second half of this decade.
The Urbansphere is the largest of the trio and the biggest Audi concept vehicle to date. It sits on 24-inch rims and measures a whopping 18 feet in length — the same as GM’s Hummer EV; it's over 6.5 feet wide (a Paul Pierce wingspan) and 5.8 feet tall (approximately one entire Tom Hardy!) And because the Urbansphere doesn’t have to account for a conventional arrangement of a combustion-powered car's components “it prioritizes the occupants’ need to experience ample space as a distinctive comfort factor,” the company wrote in a Tuesday press release.
As such, the Urbansphere’s interior offers two bucket seats in both rows, the rear pair boasting seatbacks that recline up to 60 degrees with extendable footrests. The front seats swivel to enable fed-up parents to more easily get at their misbehaving progeny without having to pull this goddamn car over and then NOBODY’S going to Disneyland, though a series of privacy dividers and seat back-mounted television screens should help keep the peace.
Audi also has plans to include a “large-format and transparent OLED screen” that pivots vertically from the roof down between the two rows. It would span the entire width of the cabin interior, like a taxi divider, and allow the rear passengers to watch movies or take conference calls. (Because even in the most idealized future Audi can imagine, we are still inconvenienced by conference calls.) When not in use, the screen will remain transparent or will fold up against the vehicle’s equally clear glass roof.
The vehicle could include an anxiety detection program that “uses facial scans and voice analysis to determine how passengers are feeling" and might offer "personalized suggestions” to relieve stress. Audi does appear to be taking the relaxation of the Urbansphere’s conceptual drivers quite seriously, incorporating calming wood accents throughout the cabin and obscuring display panels in the central infotainment screen until the car powers on.
Part of the experience that Audi envisions is the Urbansphere serving as a pseudo-assistant, allowing the driver to, say, make restaurant reservations from inside or order groceries for curbside pickup. It might also leverage level 4 capabilities to ferry riders to their destination then independently find a parking or charging station.
With an 800V architecture supporting a 270 kw max DC charging speed, it shouldn’t take too long to top off the Urbansphere’s cells. Its 120 KwH battery pack requires just 25 minutes to charge from 5 to 80 percent of its 466-mile range capacity. Overall, Audi estimates it can wring 186 miles out of a quick 10-minute charge.