Audi Q4 e-tron: «sixth sense» on board with augmented reality

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Thanks to the interaction between artificial intelligence, machine learning and enhanced Car-to-X connectivity, the augmented reality head-up display of the new Audi Q4 e-tron range combines the real and virtual world, for the benefit of safety and driving comfort. The hi-tech character of Audi electric compact SUVs is underlined by the brand new 11.6-inch MMI display, the largest ever for a four-ring car, by the possibility of choosing after purchase between four different luminous signatures – one world premiere – and new steering wheels equipped with touch controls with haptic feedback.

The instrumentation, offered in three variants, is fully digital.

How can Tom Cruise to prevent crimes in the film Minority Report, orienting oneself through sensory gloves among the information processed by the Precrime system? Thanks to augmented reality, more commonly known by the acronym AR (Augmented Reality). An immersive technology brought to the fore by the famous film by Steven Spielberg and declined in avant-garde applications: from the military field, in 1990 the Lockheed Martin-Boeing F-22 Raptor fighter, the first aircraft with AR devices on board, received the baptism of the air, to the medical sector, to support surgeons in general interventions precision, up to the spread in the world of consumer electronics.

Unlike virtual reality (VR or Virtual Reality), which uses technological tools to create illusory settings totally detached from the surrounding environment, augmented reality combines concrete and virtual elements, becoming a real “sixth sense” able to enrich the perceptive experience through hi-tech devices. In the automotive sector, Audi is a pioneer of AR technology. The House of the four rings has been using augmented reality for some time to make technical training activities even more immersive, to streamline logistical planning and to design lines, as happened for the Audi e-tron GT. The electron Granturismo produced at Audi Böllinger Höfe, the carbon neutral site in the immediate vicinity of the German plant in Neckarsulm, for the first time in Audi history was able to count on the verification of the efficiency of the assembly line and on the planning of the influx of components without resorting to physical prototypes.

Now, the House of the four rings draws further on AR technology by raising the bar of safety, intuitiveness and comfort of its cars thanks to the head-up display with augmented reality, making its debut with the compact electric SUVs of the Q4 range and -tron.

Head-up display with AR: meeting point between real and virtual

The new head-up display equipped with augmented reality combines practicality, safety and precision in the indications. The device projects the main information on the windscreen according to two levels: the status one, which concerns the behavior of the car, and the AR one. Warnings from assistance systems, navigation-related turn signals and their starting and destination points are shown as AR content and displayed dynamically, so that they appear as an integral part of the outside world. The indications belonging to virtual reality “float” at about ten meters from the driver or, depending on the driving conditions, at greater distances. The information relies on the interaction between artificial intelligence, machine learning and Car-to-X connectivity, the latter strengthened by an innovative data platform capable of detecting in real time and sharing inputs on the variations in grip of the road surface. , so as to promote safety, especially in conditions of poor visibility, and allow the driver not to distract attention from the road.

The AR content display area is equivalent to a 70-inch diagonal monitor. In the lower section, as mentioned, the status information relating to the vehicle is projected, such as driving speed, road signs and indications from the assistance and navigation systems. From a technical point of view, the heart of the augmented reality head-up display is represented by the Picture Generation Unit (PGU), located inside the dashboard. An LCD display sends the light beams to two flat-surface mirrors, while special optical elements divide the components intended for short- and long-range displays. The flat mirrors direct the light beams towards a large, electrically adjustable concave reflector. From here, the inputs reach the windshield, which displays them in the so-called eyebox, directing them towards the driver. The latter perceives the symbols with a sharpness equal to the real environment.

Systemic integration: MIB 3 platform, Augmented Reality and predictive logic

On the software side, the device called AR Creator – a calculation unit integrated by the modular infotainment platform MIB 3 – renders the symbols to be displayed at a frequency of 60 frames per second and adapts them to the geometry of the projection optics. At the same time, it establishes its positioning in the environment through multiple calculations, parameterizing the information detected by the front camera, the radar sensor and the navigation. The software is able to manage over 600,000 programming strings: 50% more than the control system of the first Space Shuttle.

The AR Creator also considers the fractions of a second that elapse between the detection of an object by the sensors and the output of graphic contents. In this short period of time, the position of the Audi Q4 e-tron could change, for example due to sudden braking or an imperfection of the asphalt. To ensure that the indication at the eyebox is not subject to jolts or vibrations, multiple additional calculation operations are performed. The AR Creator, thanks to the information detected by the front camera, predictively considers how the car will advance and estimates the variations in the set-up thanks to the operation of the radar, the electronic stability control (ESC) and the sensors of the adjustable shock absorbers (if equipped). The “photograph” of the behavior of the car and the surrounding reality is the basis of the stabilization, in a few thousandths of a second, of the head-up display.

Comfort and safety: interactive navigation and danger warnings

During navigation, the augmented reality head-up display shows a “drone”, represented by a floating arrow, which indicates the point of the route at which it will be necessary to perform a maneuver. The “drone” has a dynamic behavior: near an intersection, for example, the floating arrow announces the turn, before the next animated arrow indicates exactly the road to take. If the path subsequently becomes straight, the “drone” flies forward and disappears, only to reappear at the appropriate time before the next maneuver. The lower section of the head-up display indicates the distance to the turning point.

The head-up display with augmented reality offers support with its own optical warnings even if the driver has activated the adaptive driving assistant, able to manage the longitudinal and transverse dynamics of the car, keeping it in the middle of the lane. As soon as the Audi Q4 e-tron approaches a dividing line without the direction indicators being activated, for example, the lane departure warning system superimposes a red line on the road markings. As for maintaining the distance from the vehicle in front, the head-up display marks the car in front with a colored line, so that the driver can monitor the activation of the driving aids. If the adaptive driving assistant asks the driver to show their attention, a red marker and a warning symbol appear.

11.6-inch MMI touch: the largest ever

The Audi Q4 e-tron and Audi Q4 Sportback e-tron are the only electric native premium compact SUVs as well as the reference in the segment for interior space. A result made possible by the adoption of the Volkswagen Group’s MEB electric modular platform which allows the combination of compact external dimensions with a superior category interior space. However, the records of Audi electron sport utility vehicles go further and embrace the digital world. The introduction of the head-up display with augmented reality is accompanied by the debut of the brand new 11.6-inch MMI touch display: the largest ever for a four-ring car. At the top of the multimedia offer of the Audi Q4 e-tron range, it is characterized by a resolution of 1,764 x 824 pixels and acoustic feedback. Available in full screen configuration during the second half of 2021, it allows you to manage the infotainment, the comfort functions and the entry of texts by handwriting. Voice control, in addition to the functions that can be managed via the MMI touch, recognizes commonly used expressions and, thanks to the Audi connect Navigation & Infotainment plus package, integrates on-board information from the cloud.

Top digitization: touch steering wheels, switchable light signature and Audi virtual cockpit plus

The avant-garde character of the Audi Q4 e-tron range extends to the double-spoke steering wheels: the upper ones characterized by touch surfaces with a black panel look and assisted by a slight haptic feedback. Similarly to smartphones, swipe movements are possible in addition to touch gestures, for example to scroll through menus.

No less refined are the Audi Matrix LED headlights, on request, which combine the adaptive management of the high beams with the possibility of choosing after the purchase of the car – an absolute novelty – between four different light signatures (which respectively evoke an eye, a pupil, an arrow and a checkered flag) that can be activated via the MMI.

The digital instrumentation, standard since the first trim level, in the entry level configuration has a diagonal of 10.25 inches. The information can be managed using the steering wheel controls. The powermeter, next to the speedometer, displays the power used, the battery charge level and the interventions of the energy recovery system. On a higher level, the Audi virtual cockpit, characterized by two different views, integrates the navigation map and the infotainment controls. Top of the range is the Audi virtual cockpit plus which offers the “classic”, “sport” and “e-tron” layouts; opting for the latter the powermeter is in the foreground.

Audi Q4 e-tron and Audi Q4 Sportback e-tron constitute the sum of Audi’s expertise in the field of both SUVs and zero-emission mobility and will be officially unveiled on April 14.

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