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The Trucks of the Future

Technology is changing the face of America. Industries are no longer insulated from the relentless march of computing power. With the introduction of E-Logs, apps, and other advanced technologies, trucking is not immune.

Nowhere is this truer than in vehicle technology. Large commercial trucks are rapidly changing as a result of market innovation. As we reported last month, fuel efficiency and truck technologies are advancing at a breakneck pace.

Now, with big manufacturers getting into the game, that breakneck pace is increasing to light speed. Let’s take a look at some of the futuristic new truck designs being introduced in today’s market.

Wal-Mart’s WAVE Concept

As the world’s largest food retailer, Wal-Mart makes waves. They operate one of the largest private fleets in North America, so obviously they’ve got some skin in the trucking technology game.

They’ve now announced the Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experiment (WAVE), their idea of an efficient semi-truck that could substantially cut their fleet’s road transportation emissions. The cool thing about this concept is that they didn’t stop with just the truck. They’ve also created a full carbon fiber trailer.

The most striking thing about this new design is how the cab is set up. Rather than be situated to the left, in a driver’s seat, the driver is actually perfectly centered on the road, akin to a McLaren F1 driving position. Information is delivered not through old-fashioned physical gauges, but rather through a large information screen.

The innovation doesn’t stop in the cab, either. The WAVE would be powered by a “prototype advanced turbine-powered, range-extending series hybrid powertrain combined with an electric motor and battery storage system.”

Though the project is purely a concept, it aptly showcases the new technologies that are shaping the trucks of the future.

The StarShip

Shell Lubricants has partnered with AirFlow Truck Company to develop a seriously far-out and hyper-fuel-efficient concept vehicle that surely looks like its namesake. The concept truck ditches conventional truck design and instead focuses on aerodynamics.

The initial truck design calls for the truck and trailer to be joined as a single, integrated unit. This would essentially eliminate the gap between truck and trailer, which is one of the worst causes of aerodynamic drag. Not only would the truck be outfitted with an advanced hood, side skirt, and front end design, but some of these elements would even retract when the vehicle is traveling under 35 mph.

Under the hood, Shell says they will be providing technical consultation on the design of advanced engine and drivetrain components. The truck will apparently also use an advanced lubricant provided by Shell, of course.

While the StarShip is still a concept, expect it to face some real world tests. The companies plan to complete a cross-country fuel economy test with the vehicle in 2017.

The Freightliner Revolution

No future truck concept party would be complete with an entry from one of the market leaders. With their new Revolution concept, Freightliner is focusing solely on the driver.

The Revolution’s crossover-cab not only features an aerodynamic body and modern styling touches, but it also replaces the passenger door with a cargo hatch. A large electronic display replaces the center console. They’ve also replaced the second seat with a work/rest space that is fitted with a foldaway desk and bed.

In an effort to boost efficiency, the truck is built on an all-aluminum frame. The drivetrain has also been reconfigured to allow power to be sent to just the forward set of rear wheels, engaging the rear set only when slippage occurs.

As with the other two vehicles, the Revolution is still a concept. Freightliner has said, however, that they plan to incorporate some of the design elements and features into upcoming vehicle designs.

As technology continues to make inexorable leaps forward, we will continually see truck designs that focus on automation, fuel-efficiency and safety. How far these advances will go is yet to be seen.

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