Gloucestershire Echo - - NEW CAR NEWS - By STEVE GRANT

AUDI is show­cas­ing a fu­tur­is­tic elec­tric off-roader with its own squadron of drones at the 2019 Frank­furt Mo­tor Show.

The four-seater AI:TRAIL quat­tro com­bines the ca­pac­ity for au­to­mated driv­ing with su­perb off-road ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Glass sur­round­ing the cabin ex­tends all the way to ground level, pro­vid­ing un­ri­valled all-round vis­i­bil­ity, and am­ple bat­tery ca­pac­ity en­sures plenty of range even away from dense net­works of charg­ing sta­tions.

As the ‘Trail’ part of its name evokes the idea of ex­plor­ing na­ture, its wind­screen wraps heli­copter-style around the front of the ve­hi­cle. Pas­sen­gers have an un­ob­structed view of the trail both in front and to the sides. Al­most the en­tire roof al­lows a clear view of the sky and the land­scape and even the ver­ti­cal Sin­gle­frame is glazed.

Both the wind­screen and the tail­gate open wide, pro­vid­ing easy ac­cess to large stor­age com­part­ments with straps to keep lug­gage se­cure in tran­sit. In­te­grated in the rear bumper is a sep­a­rate com­part­ment for dirty items such as hik­ing boots or wet cloth­ing.

With an ex­te­rior length of 4.15 me­tres and a width of 2.15 me­tres, the brawny AI:TRAIL’S po­ten­tial away from paved roads is im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent. The roof height of 1.67 me­tres and enor­mous 22-inch wheels with 850 mm tyres hint at the ve­hi­cle’s ex­cel­lent off-road ca­pa­bil­i­ties even when it is stand­ing still. With a ground clear­ance of an im­pres­sive 34 cen­time­tres, it can ford through water more than half a me­tre deep.

The tyres also fea­ture vari­able, sen­sor-con­trolled air pres­sure reg­u­la­tion. Op­ti­cal sen­sors and elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol work to­gether to de­tect the con­di­tion of the road sur­face and ad­just the air pres­sure in the tyres ac­cord­ingly.

Light weight and max­i­mum body stiff­ness are im­por­tant for off-road­ers so the body of the AI:TRAIL is made of a mix­ture of high-tech steel, alu­minium and car­bon fi­bre. As a re­sult, it weighs just 1,750 kilo­grams.

A four-seater, the in­te­rior of the AI:TRAIL is un­clut­tered and spa­cious, and it has just a few vis­i­ble con­trol el­e­ments. Pedals, a yoke for a steer­ing wheel, a few but­tons, and a smart­phone at­tached to the steer­ing col­umn as a dis­play and con­trol cen­tre for ve­hi­cle func­tions and nav­i­ga­tion - are all the el­e­ments there are for the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the driver and the ve­hi­cle.

The sec­ond row of two seats are de­signed like ham­mocks. When taut and ten­sioned in a trans­portable tubu­lar frame, pan­els of fab­ric form a com­fort­able seat­ing sur­face and back­rest, and the back­rest that is drawn around to the side even pro­vides lat­eral sup­port. They can even be taken out and used as mo­bile out­door chairs.

In­stead of con­ven­tional head­lights, self-con­tained light sources sit be­low the front-pil­lars and can shine both out­ward and in­ward. These LED el­e­ments are dimmable and ad­justale and can be used as in­te­rior light­ing as well as for light­ing the ve­hi­cle’s path. The rear light, which ex­tends across the full width of the rear sec­tion, op­er­ates in a sim­i­lar way.

In­stead of con­ven­tional low beams and high beams, the AI:TRAIL is equipped with five ro­tor­less, elec­tri­cally op­er­ated drones with in­te­grated ma­trix LED el­e­ments.

These ‘Light Pathfind­ers’ can fly ahead of the AI:TRAIL and il­lu­mi­nate the path ahead, thereby re­plac­ing head­lights en­tirely. On-board cam­eras can gen­er­ate a video im­age which can be trans­mit­ted to the dis­play in front of the driver via Wi-fi, turn­ing the Pathfind­ers into eyes in the sky.

There’s also the the easy-to-use Audi Light Com­pan­ion - shaped like a large flash­light but with a much more ex­ten­sive range of func­tions.

Nor­mally mag­net­i­cally at­tached to the front side of the seat, where it acts as am­bi­ent light­ing, you can also take the Light Com­pan­ion with you when you leave the AI:TRAIL. In­te­grated in its hous­ing are three legs that can be used to stand the light in place and turn it into a camp­fire light or a closerange flood­light.

The hous­ing also ac­com­mo­dates sev­eral cam­eras that can scan the way ahead or take videos of the scenery, which can then be up­loaded di­rectly so so­cial me­dia.

The range of the AI:TRAIL is also draws note­wor­thy. The stated tar­get with its lithium-ion bat­tery is 248 to 310 miles on roads or easy off-road ter­rain. On rough ground, where en­ergy con­sump­tion is higher, the limit is still an im­pres­sive 155 miles.

Equipped with four elec­tric mo­tors in­stalled near the wheels, each of which pro­pels one wheel di­rectly, the ve­hi­cle is de­signed to reach a speed of 80mph on the road. Its max­i­mum out­put is 320 kilo­watts and the max­i­mum torque is 1,000Nm but Audi says only a frac­tion of this is usu­ally mo­bilised as the drive of just one axle is of­ten suf­fi­cient.

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