For every bit of technology that removes us from the equation, there also comes along new tech that seeks to meld man and machine more intimately. In the automotive world this is, perhaps, best exemplified by a vast array of new semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicle technology that’s on the rise. Here we have a prime example of technology looking to remove man/woman/humans/drivers from the equation bit by bit. Naturally, petrol purists are resisting this push, while techies happily embrace it.
But is there a middle ground? And are up and coming automotive designers even exploring this? If the Audi Elite Concept is anything to go off then the answer is a resounding yes.
The work of Umeå Institute of Design graduate student Eric Leong — which was showcased at the Swedish university’s Design 2012 Degree Show — the Audi Elite is a compelling concept that seeks to intimately integrate man and machine in a way that’s much more futuristic and reminiscent of a science fiction film than anything found in a contemporary automobile.
Perhaps that’s because unlike a modern car, the Audi Elite hasn’t really been designed to be driven. Instead, it’s almost worn like some suped-up exoskeleton on wheels. In place of a steering wheel, the driver (wearer?) of the vehicle controls the Elite with their whole body. As you can make out from the illustrations, the driver places his/her arms through two mechanical extensions and controls the vehicle by rotating his/her hands, arms, legs, and feet. Needless to say, it’s much more engrossing and demanding than a Toyota Prius.
Interestingly, part of the driving experience envisioned for the car centers around the driver experience and overcoming something of a learning curve. As the driver becomes more adept and acclimated to the controls, there is a greater degree of mobility and ability from the “car” itself. As we mentioned, it’s a much more demanding experience than a modern vehicle and one that requires a greater degree of intimacy, but also one that grants more mobility and control. While most vehicles merely require physical input from a driver’s hands and feet, Leong’s concept tasks the entire body. At the very least, the Audi Elite is essentially the antithesis of the autonomous driving movement.
Also of interest is how the Audi Elite would be powered. It’s not quite explained, but Leong envisions some sort of “artificial photosynthesis process.”
Needless to say, the Audi Elite is one of the more beguiling concepts we have seen in a long time and even manages to place itself near the top of our all-time favorites list alongside the Project Flake concept car. Making Leong’s concept even better is the fact that Audi actually had a hand in its development and sponsored the project, which according to CarBodyDesign, was overseen by Klemens Rossnagel, Head of Concept Design at Audi’s studio in Munich.
It will likely be some time, if ever, before we get to live out our exo-race-suit-wearing fantasies that the Audi Elite could deliver, but with the amount of genuine ingenuity coming from young auto designers these days, we can at least take comfort in knowing that the future of cars, how we control them, and maybe even wear them, is bright indeed.