Touch instead of Buttons – Audi’s new A8 Infotainment Concept

When you think of car technology the engine has long been the focal point of automotive. However, the pervasiveness of the Smartphone has elevated our expectations of how we interface with information. Audi is bridging the divide between the car and the smartphone with a completely redesigned infotainment system found in the A8. We’re here to take a closer look.

Old School Buttons are a Thing of the Past

Not only has Audi done a complete overhaul of its infotainment system, it’s reimagined the way that we interact with the car. The new MultiMedia Interface (MMI) generation is 100% touch.

The cockpit is now sleek and virtually button free. Audi has headed down this road because users are comfortable with the touch screens found on their Smartphones. Many manufacturers have avoided this interface style because you can’t feel for the buttons and would have to remove your eyes from the road to see which button you’re pressing.

Audi has done two things to make a touch only interface work safely. First, they’ve implemented an all new natural language speech recognition engine. Asking your car to perform tasks doesn’t require you to remember specific trigger phrases, for example you can now say “Drive me to Nicole Scott” and it will take you to the address associated with your contact. You can also ask context based questions like “How fast can I drive to Mom’s house” or “I want to go home”.

A strong natural language recognition system reduces the amount you actually need to physically interact with the display. With your hands on and eyes safely on the road you’ll be able to perform more complex tasks.

The second way they’ve customized the touch experience is they’ve done is including localized haptic feedback on the display. This means when you press on the screen it vibrates letting you know that your touch has been registered.

As always Audi has a full set of controls on the steering wheel so that you don’t need to remove your hands from the wheel to control many of the features found in the MMI.

The navigation system also received a facelift. You can now add destination to existing routes and when you’re searching for somewhere to eat Yelp or Google Maps ratings appear beside the restaurants. I like that we can choose between a few rating systems. Personally, I prefer Google Maps ratings because I find the reviewers are harsher, so a high rating really means something.
Handwriting Recognition Done right!

To geek out just a little the A8 has a minimum of two Nvidia’s K1 processors (up to 5 if you have the rear seat entertainment system). The K1 is the graphics focused compute powerhouse that’s behind the virtual cockpit with it’s retina display and the center column which is made up of two display’s.

The top display offers you a host of information, navigation, multimedia, lights, audio, car reports and more. The display below allows you climate control AND the ability to recognize your handwriting. This is where you really see the 192 supercomputer class GPU cores in the K1 at work. You can you can write the letters side by side or directly on top of one another. This jumble of lines is deciphered and the system figures out what word you’re typing.

Still not impressed? It can do this in Chinese as well! Chinese characters have so many individual strokes and they’re just piling up on top of one another. If you’re not re-adjusting your socks you should be, from a compute perspective this is a knock your socks off moment.

The 90s reimagined

Remember car phones and pagers? The 1991 Audi V8 came with a pretty sleek mahogany finish car phone so you could keep connected on the go. Once we had smartphones the car phone became a thing of the past. But since there is no school like the old school, Audi is bringing back the car phone in the A8 as a part of the back seat control panel.

As retro chic as there car phone is, making calls isn’t actually why Audi included this removable display. Controlling the backseat environment and the entertainment system are its primary functions. Apart from mood and climate control you can raise the blinds to create a theater like environment. When you’re fully reclined controlling the system through the tablet is more convenient than sitting up to reach the display. This is just in case you needed more convincing than the fact that it’s a badass 90s inspired car phone.
Stepping away from Android Auto & Apple Carplay

I won’t deny that Android Auto and Apple Carplay have their place. As the automotive ecosystem matures, there are more and more reasons to try to live in Audi’s MMI rather than passover control to your smartphone.

When you use Android Auto and Apple Carplay it’s a completely different system that just appears on the display’s of your car. Everything is being run off your phone. This means that you lose out on so much of the car experience when you leave Audi’s MMI.

Addicted to your heads up display? Forget it! Want to adjust your sweet B&O speakers? You can’t. You are now interacting solely with your phone. Any of the interactions with the car itself won’t be available.

Apple & Google stepped up when the automotive industry had its growing pains. Struggling to integrate the smartphone ecosystem whose life cycle is only a year with that of the car which could be on the road for 20. No easy task.

The new generation of the MMI in the Audi A8 demonstrates the maturity of product ready to coexist and complement that of the Smartphone.

The car and the phone are arguably the most personal pieces of tech a person can own. Increasing the integration between our two most beloved devices only seem natural. Not does the MMI provide information more like that of the Smartphone, but the MyAudi App has also gotten a significant overhaul.

MyAudi App – Bridging the gap between your phone & the car

Preparing for the day, going over my calendar is a morning ritual. With the MyAudi app I’m now able to transfer my entire calendar or individual destinations to the MMI. This means my navigation for the day is ready to go when I get in the car. For the road-tripper in me you can also highlight points of interest and stream music by Napster.

The app also provides a myriad of ways to interact with the car itself: lock and unlock doors, heat or cool the car before you get in and get information like oil levels and your car maintenance schedule. In case of theft the Audi call center can locate your A8 and disable it as well as attract attention by flashing the lights and honking the horn to help police find it.

Audi has taken a meaningful step forward and come to market with a competitive infotainment system. It’s wet my appetite for what they’re going to show next with the Audi AI, piloted drive is almost here and that’s a whole other cluster of technology that I can’t wait to get into!