Audi’s nice service support man joined me in the A8 to show me how it worked; with an infra-red camera tucked in the Audi rings, detecting heat sources. Flick a button to select it, and either view the landscape ahead in grey-tones with warmer objects glowing whiter, or hide the screen and use only an alert if a pedestrian leaps in front rather too close to the car.
It can be confusing during daylight, as lots of things get warm – concrete, black cars, dark-coloured fences and metal road signs all glow like beacons. And I could see the framing of the wall in front – because behind it sat the building’s mighty air conditioning unit, its warmth highlighting where the plaster’s thinnest.
So far, so fun – but then a couple of Audi employees walked past. My golly were one woman’s trousers thin; her upper half showed in tones of grey, darker where thicker layers kept her body heat in, her legs glowing like sturdy beacons. Mr Audi will have trouble looking her in the eye for days.
I left the screen on as I drove away, amused to see what materials absorb heat, but soon it became distracting and I just enjoyed the drive – the A8’s enormous technical orchestra making this an exceptionally cosseted commute.
But that night I commenced a city cruise to see just how well night vision works.
Initially it showed up folk I’d already spotted; joggers with ankle reflectors, cyclists with lights, girls in white trou. Then the weekday evening pavement seemed empty, until a figure glowed on the screen – well out of range of the lights. Within 90 metres it was boxed in yellow; that warning firing while the walker remained invisible, his black tracksuit blending into the darkness.
I was impressed, but not convinced – I’d seen him before he’d have been at risk had he stepped out.
Then several youths dived across the road, a child darted from a bus stop, and a flotilla of bicycles joined from the left. I’d have seen some of them at night, but on a busy street it’s hard to keep track of the stuff that matters.
The night vision gave me an instant pattern of the lives intersecting my path, and I was sold.
Of course, it’s not only people who show up, even at night. Tyres and mufflers are warm; so is the back of a bus. You can tell which neighbours got home late (their cars are still glowing) and even where poorly-insulated houses are tucked among the trees; insulation salesmen will love this stuff when targeting customers.
If they can afford it, that is. For this type of tech remains a toy for the rich. And of course it’s not infallible; a cold car is just as solid as a hot one – whether it’s dark or foggy, you’ll still need to keep your wits about you.
See the Audi A8 for sale.