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Audi E-Tron Concept Drives Hands-Free Into Future

LAS VEGAS — This isn't the first time we've seen Audi's E-Tron Quattro, but at CES 2016 yesterday (Jan. 6), the German carmaker's forward-looking concept became the company's flagbearer for three important future trends: electrification, digitization and piloted driving.

With three electric engines, brilliant Matrix OLED lights in the front and back, and an estimated range of 300 miles on a charge, the E-Tron Quattro does a great job of embodying the first trend, but it was developments in the latter two categories that had the crowd buzzing on the Las Vegas Convention Center show floor. The car's sleek design didn't hurt either.

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Digitization comes in the form of an engaging 17-inch curved AMOLED display mounted in the center console, and and another smaller display in front of the steering wheel. The center-console display varies what's on the screen based on your requests and needs, while also responding swiftly to touch, voice and gesture-based input. While it's not quite ready for actual production, Audi's sleek dashboard easily tops anything currently on the market, including Tesla's giant LCD-console display.

The software driving the system is what Audi calls its Modular Infotainment platform (MIB2+), and the display itself is powered by Nvidia's X1 processor. MIB2+ also works with Audi's MMI Connect app to link the car with your smartphone or tablet.

Finally, piloted driving is handled by Audi's zFAS central control unit, which is powered by additional Nvidia X1 chips. This is the system responsible for keeping your car between the lines even when your hands aren't on the wheel. But even though the zFAS is debuting on a concept vehicle, it will see production. Audi plans to launch the system on the 2017 A8, which should let Audi's luxury sedan perform hands-free piloted driving on the highway. Later on, Audi plans to improve zFAS so that its cars are fully hands-free from start to finish.

These three pillars of innovation give the E-Tron Quattro the technological credibility to do its futuristic styling justice, and with clear lines flowing from this concept car to actual production vehicles coming soon from Audi, this is the kind of demo I really like seeing. It's a glimpse of the future, with a solid road on how to get there, starting today.