Audi has provided an early tease of a completely new electric concept vehicle it plans to reveal at the upcoming Frankfurt auto show next month. Called AI:Trail, it appears to be a nod to the idea that technology-advanced autonomous vehicles may not entirely be bound to the normal maze of streets and highways. 

The concept, Audi says, shows “an electrically driven off-roader of the future,” and completes a quartet of visionary vehicles that started in 2017 with the Aicon and Elaine. This one appears to have rugged lower-body cladding like an SUV—and, perhaps, additional ground clearance—while offering a low beltline and a good view out for passengers. True to vehicles built on a “skateboard” electric-vehicle platform, the AI:Trail appears to push the cab forward, without the typical SUV engine bay. 

The most recent of these “AI” concepts was the AI:ME, revealed at the Shanghai auto show earlier this year as how the brand sees urban mobility in the future. It featured a less-advanced version autonomy, with a steering wheel and pedal set that retract into the dash when not needed. 

Audi Aicon Concept

Audi Aicon Concept

The Aicon revealed at the 2017 Frankfurt show provided a cohesive look at how innovations could combine in a fully autonomous vehicle that amounted to a very high-end (well-performing) lounge on wheels. It went to the eventual extremes that futurists might anticipate in autonomous vehicles, beyond just removing the steering wheel—doing away, for instance, with long-range headlamps, adding a wrap-around haptic interface, and using eye-tracking.

Even in a time when autonomous modes become the norm, it would seem that people will still want to go on vacation, explore, and go off the main (and paved) highways. We'll have to wait a few weeks to see exactly how Audi addresses this more rugged trail to the future.