Here’s a glimpse of what Audis may become in the next five or six years: the Audi AI:ME, an autonomous, electric living room on wheels.

It’s not quite fully autonomous, though. Rather it operates at ‘level 4’ autonomy, which means the AI:ME would only drive itself within a defined area, such as towns and motorways. Once outside those zones, the driver would take over.

Whilst in autonomous mode, the steering wheel and pedals retract into the bulkhead and the driver can relax in their armchair. Which looks so comfy that I want one in my house. Audi claims the interior of the AI:ME has a lot more space than you’d expect of a car that’s a relatively compact 4.3 metres long and 1.9 metres wide, thanks to a wheelbase stretched as far as it’ll go and a high roofline. A rear bench has space for two and has an apparently near-limitless range of adjustment.

Slabs of wood are liberally dotted around the interior, while many of the materials used are recycled. The control touchpads are made from the same stuff as high-end kitchen countertops. There are magnetic surfaces to hold cups and plates. There are even plants growing across the ceiling.

The AI:ME is crammed to the gunwales with gadgetry, too, starting with a 3D, OLED multi-function screen that runs across the base of the windscreen. Many of the car’s functions are accessed simply by looking at a specific area of the screen, thanks to eye-tracking tech.

Noise compensation tech filters out the outside world entirely, so the occupants can waft along in splendid isolation. While wearing the built-in VR headset. There’s more tech in the bodywork, too, with LED lights that project messages to whichever numpty is about to step out into the road without looking.

Powering the AI:ME is an electric motor on the rear axle producing 170hp. But, rather than dumping all of that out in one go as electric cars usually do, it metres the power out according to how much is actually needed at any given moment. Audi hasn’t said how far it’ll go on a single charge, rather that the batteries will last long enough to do a typical day’s-worth of running round.

Audi launched its AI sub-brand for autonomous cars in 2017 with the AIcon concept, which operated at ‘level 5’ – i.e. fully autonomously. Cars with level 4 capability are expected to be on the market by the mid-2020s, with level 5 following soon after. Assuming the infrastructure to support them exists by then, which seems a bit optimistic to us.

Anyway, the Audi AI:ME is now on display at Auto Shanghai 2019.

By Graham King