Over the next few years, we’ll see Audi cars with touchscreens replacing all buttons, electric turbochargers under the hood, and some forms of autonomous technology. That’s what Professor Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg (pictured at left), Audi board member of technical development, revealed at last week’s Los Angeles auto show.
“I think there will be one day where it is zero,” he said with regard to how many physical buttons future cars must have. “I think the customer today is used to touchscreens. It’s not a problem for the customer to handle it.”
“So R8 and TT will be completely driver-oriented, and the cars that are filled with kids and a wife or different people, they always will have a central display in addition,” Hackenberg said.
Audi would really like to bring some of its cleverest lighting technology to the U.S., but American regulators keep blocking it. Among those technologies: Matrix Beam headlights that can selectively provide low- and high-beam illumination on different parts of the road, and directional turn signals that light up in a pattern to show the direction the car is indicating.
“It’s a nice effect so the customers like it. They like it in Europe, I think they also would like it in the U.S.A.,” Hackenberg said. “We have to talk with the authorities to make this possible. They [the talks] are in a good way.”
Having shown the Audi RS5 TDI concept with the technology, Hackenberg confirms that Audi plans to use electric turbochargers on future models. The idea is to reduce the momentary hesitation away from a stop (particularly with diesel engines) before traditional turbos can spool up. That requires a 48-volt electrical system — nearly every car in the world currently uses a 12-volt system — which will first be introduced on the next-generation Audi A8 luxury sedan and Audi Q7 large crossover. A larger lithium-ion battery will be used for 48-volt cars.
Just because Audi can build engines with electric turbochargers, it doesn’t mean every car will have the technology. Cars with affordable base engines might not receive the feature, nor will plug-in models as an electric motor can fill in the torque hole while a turbocharger spools up, obviating the need for an electric turbo.
Audi is still hard at work developing semi- and fully-autonomous cars — the company refers to the features as Piloted Driving — but has discovered one stumbling block to furthering the tech.
“If the car tells the driver, ‘I have a problem, please [take control]’, then we know in our studies that the driver needs up to ten seconds to do it in a safe way,” Hackenberg said. “If you do that with the speeds we are thinking of, then you need a lot of sensors, a lot of analysis, to make sure the decisions the car makes are right.”
That means Audi’s autonomous cars need to be able to predict a potential problem up to ten seconds ahead of time, so that the human driver can retake control of the wheel. One solution is to have two parallel computers, which will both check inputs from the car’s sensors and make predictions about what will happen next. If there’s a disagreement, the car will ask the human driver to take over instead.
While he won’t give a firm timeline for production models, Hackenberg remains confident about Audi’s research into self-driving cars.
“We are on a very good way, we are a leading company for autonomous driving,” he said.