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Lighting design of the Audi Aicon

The Audi Aicon embodies the future of the automobile. Its lighting design marks the beginning of a new era. Will the autonomously driving car of tomorrow even need headlights? Blog author Maj-Britt Peters took this question to the lighting designers.

Der Audi Aicon im neuen Designcenter von Audi in Ingolstadt.
The Audi Aicon deliberately foregoes headlamps and lighting units in the usual sense. Instead there are fully digital display surfaces comprising hundreds of triangular pixel segments.

The Audi Aicon rests sensually and impressively in the new Audi design center. He’s a mobility concept, technology demonstrator and design study all combined in one. And he was the celebrity of this year’s IAA. As soon as Cesar Muntada and Viktor Hahn enter the room, countless pixels start to shine where the headlights used to be. They fill out the space and then slowly transform into one eye-like shape. Then, rhythmically, they start dancing across the display areas that frame the Audi rings at the car’s front. Moving from the inner corner to the outer corner, from top to bottom. It seems as if the Aicon is excited to see its lighting designers.

With the Aicon, Audi presents the automobile of tomorrow. The autonomously driving technology carrier has no steering wheels and no pedals. And he deliberately foregoes headlamps and lighting units in the usual sense.

The design of the light

The reason behind this: The laser and radar sensor system sees enough in the dark to navigate its passengers safely through the traffic. “This gives us designers the possibility to completely rethink the topic of light”, says Muntada, Head of Lighting design at Audi. Consequently, it is not only about the design of the lighting elements and their shape but the design of the light itself. The result: The Audi of the future greets each of its passengers with a personal lighting signature – above all its lighting designers.

Lichtdesign Audi Aicon

The lighting designers Viktor Hahn (left) and Cesar Muntada (right) in eye contact with the Aicon. The Audi Aicon looks spectacular from any angle.

Digital light as the foundation for trust

Over and over again, the lights move fluidly along the long drawn-out digital surfaces at the front and rear. This becomes possible through large digital lighting fields that can be animated freely. They consist of one hundred triangular pixel segments that are based on the Audi AI symbol and mapped out three-dimensionally. “Through the pixel’s three-dimensionality we make the digital world physically perceptible”, Muntada explains. A feat that creates fascinated reactions: “At the IAA, the visitors had the urge to touch the lights – just watching them wasn’t enough. That was a very special moment for us lighting designers.”

"In the future, the main function of the light won’t be the sight, but the communication."

Cesar Muntada, Head of Lighting design at Audi

“In the case of today’s production models, light is a security factor”, Muntada asserts. “But with an autonomously driving vehicle, light is the foundation for trust.” Nowadays, when crossing a street, you can communicate with the driver through eye contact. With autonomously driving cars, this won’t be possible anymore. So with whom will we have eye contact? That’s where the car comes into play. In the future, the main function of the light won’t be the sight, but the communication. That’s why the lights of the Aicon are recreated from the human eye. “The Aicon looks you straight in the eye”, Muntada says and strokes the green illuminated display with its hand.

Lichtdesigner Viktor Hahn betrachtet die aus hundert dreieckigen Pixe-Segmente bestehenden Displayflächen.
Chef-Lichtdesigner Cesar Muntada betrachtet die horizontal geschnittenen Leutsegmente.

With the Aicon, Muntada and his team have developed a light language. “The Audi Aicon is a puristic concept car. That’s why the lighting concept has been reduced and is conclusive in itself”, lighting designer Hahn says. The aim is always to strengthen the trust and dialogue between the car and other members of traffic users. “The LED technology enables us to visualize graphics, animations and information in any color. This means that the Aicon can make eye contact with a pedestrian and indicate that he has seen the pedestrian and lets him cross the street”, Hahn explains. The Audi Aicon also shows the other pedestrians what he will do next: In the acceleration process, lighting waves will travel upward the car, in the braking process they will go down and before switching the lane, the color will change. “Our orientation for the lighting movements was the symbolism of the dynamic turn signal that was developed by Audi”, Hahn explains. “It is important that the symbolism is self-explanatory and understandable internationally”.

In the future, the interplay between digitalization and connectivity will play a greater role in terms of car lighting. In doing so, the lighting will receive a social component used for communicative purposes. “The Aicon has high-resolution view modules that can illuminate their environment according to the traffic situation – an example of this may well be an adapted road illumination”, Hahn explains. The digital matrix light makes it possible to for example project warning notices onto the road for other road users to see – so similar to the hazard warnings that the Audi e-tron Sportback concept was able to release.

The Aicon can make eye contact with pedestrians and indicate that he has seen the pedestrian and lets him cross the street first.

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If the car detects passers-by or other road users, it literally makes eye contact with them and follows them with its “eyes.”

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The Audi Aicon supports its surroundings intelligently and uses animations on its display surfaces to warn pedestrians or cyclists of dangerous situations.

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The vast areas and high density of pixels enable diverse graphics, animations and information displays in any color. That’s how driving modes – like driving in convoy – can be visualized.

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In the rear, several hundred 3D pixels have been placed in a spatially arranged layout.

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So is this the perfect lighting?

“The Aicon moves in a brave new world. It is our turn to define this world reasonably”, Muntada states. One thing is particularly important: “Every vehicle has its own character, but the Audi family has to be visible all the time – just like in a family picture.” In the static state, the lighting design complies with the formal language of Audi: Sustained long-drawn light bodies and a clear, sensual design. And in movement? “As the first Audi ever, the Aicon expresses the passenger’s character – just by using its light movements”, Muntada explains. The personalized welcome signature is only one of many features. When exiting the vehicle in the dark, the “path finder” activates in the form of a mini drone with headlights. It is meant to illuminate the pedestrian’s walking route.

How close is the design vision to perfect lighting? “The Aicon has the perfect light for its passengers”, Muntada says. “In terms of the driver, we already have the perfect light available with the new Audi A8”.

Der Aicon im Designcenter von Audi

As a concept car, the Audi Aicon moves in a brave new world and gives a first glance at future mobility.

Audi Aicon
Audi MediaCenter

Audi Aicon

With the four-door design vision Audi Aicon, the brand with the four rings is presenting a autonomous Audi of the future – with no steering wheel or pedals. As a design concept, the four-door 2+2 boldly leaps ahead to show the exterior and interior design of the next decades. The technology demonstrator combines innovations relating to the drivetrain, suspension, digitalization and sustainability in a visionary manner. The Aicon, too, is designed for purely electric operation and should be able to cover distances between 700 and 800 kilometers (435.0 - 497.1 mi) on a single charge.

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