4th Audi ‘sphere’ concept pushes mixed reality interior with a sportback-pickup trick

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The latest ‘sphere’ concept from Audi may be the most advanced and utilitarian of the bunch.

The fourth in the series of battery-electric vehicle concepts — a self-driving sportback crossover — can transform into a small pickup capable of carrying bicycles or other gear. And it features an augmented reality interface.

The Audi Activesphere concept — like its three predecessors, the Grandsphere, Urbansphere and Skysphere — is intended to demonstrate the brand’s vision of autonomous electric vehicles, the integrated technologies they may offer, and potential flexibility.

The concept boasts a transitioning rear deck: The aggressively raked glass slides forward to expose a tailgate. With the tailgate dropped and the glass forward, the two-row crossover’s cargo space is transformed into a mini truck bed, good enough to haul sporting equipment, Audi says. With the rear glass in sportback position, the Activesphere features a pop-up ski rack integrated into the roof.

As with the other sphere concepts, the Activesphere’s suspension system is equipped with variable geometry to provide added ground clearance when activated. Another primary goal of the BEV is to explore the best use of interior space.

With the Activesphere, Audi developed an augmented reality ecosystem for driver and passengers, in which specially equipped headsets create 3D digital displays that not only allow control of the vehicle’s functions, but interact with the vehicle’s surroundings, especially in Level 4 autonomous driving mode.

In autonomous mode, the dashboard, steering wheel and pedals retract, providing additional room in the cabin right out to the front of the car. To carry the illusion further, the brand replaced its traditional single-frame grille with a glazed material that gives occupants a full view of the road.

Audi says the concept, which was developed on the PPE platform Audi co-developed with Porsche, has about a 100-kilowatt-hour battery as well as an 800-volt charging infrastructure to speed charging.