Audi skysphere concept – the future is wide open

With skysphere, Audi are illustrating their vision for the progressive luxury segment of the future, where interior becomes an interactive space and the vehicle a platform for captivating experiences.

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Audi hints at future design direction with the first of a new family of concepts, the skysphere.

In a world where technology is rapidly redefining our connection with the car, what does the user experience look like? Audi aims to answer this with the skysphere, a versatile and interactive vehicular interface that leverages technology in ways few have thought about in the past. We think you’ll agree, it also looks quite stunning.

The Audi skysphere concept shows how the brand is redefining luxury in the future – it’s no longer just about driving. The concept car was designed with the clear objective of offering its occupants captivating and world-class experiences.

To give passengers the maximum amount of freedom, the Audi skysphere concept was designed for two different driving experiences: a grand touring experience and a sports experience. This makes use of a spectacular technical detail – the variable wheelbase. Electric motors and a sophisticated mechanism with body and frame components that slide into one another make it possible to vary the wheelbase itself and the exterior length of the car by 250 millimetres. At the same time, the vehicle’s ground clearance is adjusted by 10 millimetres to enhance comfort and driving dynamics.

With the touch of button, the driver can take advantage of their freedom and choose their own driving experience – either they pilot their 4.94-metre-long e-roadster themselves in “Sports” mode with a reduced wheelbase, while the rear-wheel steering ensures that the vehicle remains extremely agile despite its dimensions. Or they can choose to be chauffeured around in a 5.19-metre GT in the autonomous “Grand Touring” driving mode while enjoying the sky and the scenery, maximum legroom, and the services offered by a seamlessly integrated digital ecosystem.

In this mode, the steering wheel and pedals move into an invisible area; the feeling of space in the concept car opens up completely new realms of possibility for such a sporty convertible. Meanwhile, the Audi skysphere automatically keeps an eye on the road and traffic with its sensor system and drives the occupants safely to their destination.

The vehicle also takes care of everyday tasks that go beyond the ride itself. For example, the autonomous Audi skysphere concept picks up its passengers with information about their current destination and independently handles parking and charging.

 

The concept car was conceived and designed at the Audi Design Studio in Malibu, Studio manager Gael Buzyn and his team were influenced by a legendary classic model from the company’s own history – the Horch 853 roadster.

The impressive convertible, which is also around 5.20 metres in length, was not only the definition of modern luxury in the 1930s.

 

But the car’s dimensions and typical proportions with a rather compact cabin and long front end is where the similarities end.

 

“New technologies like electrification, digitalisation, and autonomous driving gave us the opportunity to create an experience that goes way beyond the one that typical roadsters offer today,” said design project manager Gael Buzyn.

An electric motor positioned on the powered rear axle is responsible for delivering power to the wheels of the Audi skysphere. A total of 465 kilowatts of power and 750 Newton meters of torque have an easy time with the roadster, which only weighs around 1,800 kilograms. The weight distribution of around 60 percent on the powered rear axle results in ample traction and acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in just four seconds.

 

Steering takes place via a steer-by-wire system that controls both the front and the rear wheels. Because the system is not mechanically connected to the front axle, the driver can select different steering ratios and steering settings – all at the touch of a button. This allows the steering to be adjusted from extremely direct to comfortable, but also from high self-aligning forces to minimal self-aligning forces, for example when parking. The rear-axle steering and adaptive wheelbase also contribute to the car’s small turning radius.

 

Viewed from the side, the proportions are impressive with a long hood and – especially at the front – a short overhang. The surfaces of the wheel arches and front hood are organically curved. The rear end was developed in a wind tunnel and combines elements of a speedster and a shooting brake with large glass surfaces in a traditional streamlined design. Two overnight bags designed specifically for the Audi skysphere find space under the glass, and are held in place with straps that are stretched in a crosswise pattern.

The front end – although no longer serving as a radiator grill – clearly features the brand’s typical Singleframe and the three-dimensionally designed, illuminated emblem with the four rings. The entire Singleframe and also the adjacent surfaces on the sides are designed with white LED elements to literally act as a stage for visual effects – both functional effects as well as moving welcome sequences when the vehicle is opened and closed.

 

A characteristic feature of the side view are the rocker panels, which seem to protrude into the rear wheel arch – a necessary feature when varying the wheelbase actually pushes it backwards.

 The rocker panel is attached to the front end of the car, and as it moves, the panel also slides to the rear under the fixed door. In the process, the wheelbase is reduced from the standard size of an A8 L to the significantly more compact size of the Audi RS 5 – 25 centimetres make all the difference. And not just technically, but also visually and, above all, in terms of the driving experience.

 

There’s no doubt that the Audi skysphere concept has two personalities – a GT and a luxury sports car. The key differences, however, can only be enjoyed in the interior, because here, behind the rear-hinged and wide-opening doors, the Audi skysphere offers highly contrasting experiences.

When it comes to the three upcoming concept cars Audi skysphere, Audi grandsphere, and Audi urbansphere, the brand is placing the space that surrounds the passengers (“sphere”) and which becomes an experience for them – the interior – at the center of its designs.

 

This is because all three vehicles are designed for level 4 autonomous driving – meaning that in certain defined road and traffic situations, the driver can delegate complete responsibility to the car and no longer has to intervene.

 

As a result, control elements such as the steering wheel and pedals can be swiveled into an invisible position and thereby completely removed from the interior. And passengers, including the one in the front left seat, can enjoy a new form of freedom – the freedom to relax in the open air, enjoy the scenery and the wind, or interact with the internet and the world thanks to the connection with the digital ecosystem in the Audi skysphere.

 

Should the Audi skysphere concept be used in driver-operated mode, then the interior transforms into an ergonomically perfect driving machine cockpit. Together with the chassis and body, the instrument panel and the monitor panel on the center console also move to the rear. The driver finds all the controls, including the steering wheel and pedals, in the position that best suits them.

Large touch monitor surfaces – 1415mm wide, 180mm high – on the dashboard and in the upper area of the centre console are used to operate the vehicle and infotainment systems. In Grand Touring mode, this can be used to display content from the internet, video conferences, or streamed movies. Small touch panels in the doors are used to operate the air conditioning.

 

Customised infotainment options are also available, such as linking the on-board streaming service to music and video providers used at home. And in a further step, Audi also aims to provide personalised and exclusive options for users of its luxury cars in the future – such as concerts, cultural events, or even sporting events that are only available upon special invitation.

 

No longer will cars be about purely the ‘drive’ experience. Fuelled by technology and innovative thinking like Audi are demonstrating in the skysphere concept, cars will become much deeper experiencial devices. And believe it not, while it seems science fiction now, the future is not as distant as you might think.

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