Audi’s New Electric Overlanding Concept Uses a Fleet of Drones for Headlights

A technical innovation that would eliminate headlights altogether.


Back in August, Audi teased the AI: Trail concept –a concept that, so far as we could tell, looked like a badass futuristic off-roader, like an Audi interpretation of a Halo Warthog. Well, Audi has unveiled that vehicle at this year’s Frankfurt Auto Show, and “badass futuristic off-roader” still feels like an apt description. Its appearance falls somewhere between intriguing and ungodly — which is not a terrible place for an innovative concept that’s nowhere near production to be.

Audi describes the vehicle as a “true Quattro,” suggesting it’s the heir to the company’s long history of all-wheel-drive performance machines. The AI: Trail has a quad electric motor system with an individual unit propelling each wheel. The combination produces 429 horsepower and 729 pound-feet of torque. It can reach a top speed of around 81 mph.

Range would be critical for the AI: Trail’s overlanding capability. Audi pegged the ideal range at about 400-500 kilometers under the WLTP standards, which would translate to around a 210-to-260-mile EPA-rated range. It would have about a 250-km WLTP range (about 132 EPA-rated miles) over rough terrain.

Audi designed the AI: Trail for Level 4 autonomy. The vehicle could operate as a fully autonomous vehicle within a designated area, but there would still be a steering wheel and controls present for the driver to take over.

The most interesting feature may be the lighting system. The AI: Trail would forego traditional headlights altogether in favor of “Audi Light Pathfinders” — a quintet of rotorless triangular drones that would operate automatically and fly around the vehicle,  shining light on the path ahead as well as recording video. You would control the drone settings via smartphone.

That flexible lighting setup could be revolutionary for overlanding and camping. It’s easy to see how Audi would have difficulty implementing such a feature on a production vehicle, but hey, it’s hardly the most outrageous part of this concept.

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