For trucking journalists and technology junkies, 2014 was a year that offered tantalizing glimpses of a sci-fi trucking future that may not be too far off. Some captured the imagination of the mainstream media as well as those in trucking. Here's a roundup of some of the most fascinating futuristic finds of the year:
1. Walmart's futuristic concept truck
A futuristically styled tractor powered by a microturbine-electric hybrid drive system (pictured at top of page) and a trailer made of lightweight carbon fiber comprise a concept rig shown off by Walmart Stores that garnered a lot of buzz at the Mid-America Trucking Show in March.
The Wal-Mart Advanced Vehicle Experience, or WAVE, rig demonstrates materials and electro-mechanical systems that could help the giant retailer get further to its goal of reducing by half its energy use by 2015.
The trailer walls are first-of-a-kind continuous panels of carbon fiber, and its nose is “convex” – rounded like trailers of the 1930s – to smooth air flow and add cargo space.
2. Platooning Trucks
Peloton Technology, Menlo Park, Calif., demonstrated its two-truck platooning system in May along a stretch of I-80 just east of Reno.
The technology makes use of a forward collision avoidance system and vehicle-to-vehicle communication to allow two trucks to travel closer together than would normally be safe.
The system combines forward-looking radar, intelligent braking and the V2V link to allow the trucks to travel close together, reducing drag and saving fuel in the process. In a test with C.R. England last year, Peloton says, they achieved a 10% improvement in fuel efficiency for the following truck and a 4.5% increase for the front truck.
3. Daimler's Future Truck
In a summer event in Germany, Daimler Trucks demonstrated an autonomous commercial vehicle, being developed as part of Daimler Trucks' "Shaping Future Transportation" initiative to conserve resources, reduce emissions and to ensure traffic safety through vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle communications.
The Highway Pilot system, which resembles the autopilot on an aircraft, further extends the truck's safety systems and helps it interact with other nearby vehicles as well as the roadway itself. It uses a combination of stereo cameras, long- and short-throw, and wide and narrow angle radar to "see" the world around it and helps allow the truck to drive itself, as the driver sits back and relaxes or performs other logistics work.
4. ZF Innovation Truck
Just days after Daimler's initial introduction of its Future Truck, German transmission and component maker ZF showed off a self-parking rig.
The ZF Innovation Truck crept backwards as its second trailer, a tandem-axle pup hitched by drawbar to a semitrailer just ahead, moved along a row of orange cones on the vehicle’s blind side. The tractor and semitrailer followed and the entire rig was parallel-parked smartly.
This is a tricky maneuver involving two pivot points that not many drivers can accomplish, But that pup was being aimed by a second man using a tablet computer with a special application that steered the tractor in response to electronic instructions.
5. Volvo 360-degree technology
At the bi-annual IAA Commercial Vehicle expo in Germany in the fall, Volvo Trucks showed off a new safety technology that scans the environment around a truck, warning a driver when collisions are imminent and preventing accidents. While not commercially available, it could be on the market in five to 10 years.