TRUCKS OF THE FUTURE; CLOSER TO REALITY THAN YOU THINK
Progress is getting ever faster. In just ten years' time trucks are going to be a lot different to those of today. At least that is according to Rikard Orell, Design Director at Volvo Truck Corporation and one of the brains behind Concept Truck 2020, the Volvo Truck Corporation's bold vision for the future.
Long distance haulage for the future: long combinations, controlled by autopilot, driven non-stop in nose-to-tail convoys on green super-motorways linking the continents.
This is the vision of the future that generated the ideas behind the Volvo Concept Truck 2020 design concept. But will it really look like this in just ten years?
"That is the whole point," says Rikard Orell Design Director at Volvo Trucks. "Progress is getting ever faster. Because of this our vision for the future is not that far away. Much of the technology in the Volvo Concept Truck 2020 is already available; other technology needs to be developed. One needs to dare to stride firmly into the debate, demonstrating what one can and will do. Just tinkering at the edges runs the risk of progress slipping away."
Safer and more efficient commercial transport
As road transport expands it must also become safer and more efficient. Volvo's design concept contains ideas about how that can be achieved. Some of these ideas can be integrated into production today, while others are there to arouse interest and start a discussion.
One of the more startling ideas is to link vehicles together wirelessly into long road-trains that rush across the continents at 90 km/h (56 mph).
"This will be possible when the transport sector's vision of green corridors becomes reality," says Rikard Orell. "Here heavy goods vehicles are separated from other traffic, driving in their own lanes, rather like a railway, but without the rails."
There are many advantages. Road safety increases, transport services require less space and wear and tear on the roads decreases. Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions drop thanks to reduced drag when a truck is in the slipstream of the vehicle in front. In addition the driver can rest behind the wheel while the truck effectively drives itself. If this is counted as idle time, transport times can be cut, deliveries will be made more quickly and drivers can get back to their friends and families earlier.
Spacious and airy driver environment
The driver is at the centre of Volvo's world. It goes without saying that a design concept from Volvo Trucks contains a great many ideas about the development of the driver environment. In the Volvo Concept Truck 2020 the driver's environment is spacious, airy and free of disruption.
"We have replaced the traditional dashboard with a thin film panel on which information is tailored to suit the driver," says Rikard Orell. "The panel is operated like a touchpad, just like an iPhone. We have saved a lot of space that way."
Another space-saving idea is the sleek driver's seat with its thin, ventilated mesh backrest, more like a modern office chair than a traditional driver's seat. Behind the driver is a futon sofa which folds out into a wide, comfortable bed in the evening.
The lighting in the cab is divided into zones customised for the driver's various in-cab tasks, or for resting. Around the driver are large areas of glass providing good visibility out of the vehicle and even into it. This benefits eye contact between the driver and other road users preventing accidents. Privacy screening and blackout in the evening are also controlled electronically.
Aerodynamic collision protection
The design team also aimed for a sleek look for the exterior, reducing the perception of the vehicle's size. The LED headlamps and indicators are integrated into the front of the vehicle. The rear-view mirrors have been replaced by cameras that project their images onto the inside of the windscreen.
The lower section of the front of the vehicle features integrated collision protection projecting forwards about half a metre. This ‘nose' is gentler on oncoming cars in the event of a head-on collision and has also been shown to improve the aerodynamics of the vehicle.
As Rikard Orell points out, "Because the nose is a safety function, our starting point has been that it does not count as part of the maximum permitted vehicle length, just as rear-view mirrors today are outside the maximum permitted width."
Some things you just do not change. The ‘Globetrotter' sign on the roof is still there, but has been redesigned so that it harmonises with the lines of the vehicle and reduces drag. The driver can also change the text on the sign from the instrument panel.
The rear end is the next stage
So work on the external design focuses largely on aerodynamics, but by how much is it really possible to reduce drag on a truck ?
"We have come so far with the front of the vehicle that further changes to the basic shape provide only marginal improvements," says Rikard Orell. "However, a lot will happen when we start work on the design of the rear end of the vehicle. There is a great deal of untapped aerodynamic potential there
Out of the darkness you see it. Illuminated by high intensity headlights and a strangely familiar neon-lit grille motif. Beneath the towering yet slender cab the engine hums like a German washing machine, quiet, purposeful….
Pressing the keyfob again you hear a gentle hiss as the driver’s door pops open and slides back while an open plan staircase of steps slides out of the lower front valance allowing you to climb into the interior of this strange truck. And that cool interior is softly-lit like some expensive, yet understated cocktail bar…but what manner is this strange beast? And from whence did it come?
Seated in the figure hugging pre-programmed memory seat you reach out to the touch sensitive dashboard and select the instruments you want displayed during your journey…but to where and with what?
Welcome to the future my friends… and the fabulous Vision 2010 concept truck from Volvo! Biglorryblog has Aina Nilsson Ström,design director at AB Volvo to thank for this trip into the world of 21st century trucking. BLB witnessed a most engaging presentation from Aina at the recent Truck & Bus World Forum having been lucky to be one of the session chairmen–and Aina’s presentation was on the role of aerodynamics in maximising truck efficiency. Amongst her slides was this selection of Vision 2020 and she’s also sent me an animated video clip which I’ll also post up shortly. But back to your journey…
Soon you’ve made your way to one of the many designated Trans-European ‘Green Freight Corridors’ where you’re soon joined by other Vision 2020 trucks…and naturally using your integrated guidance system and adaptive cruise control with automated distance sensing it’s not long before you’re running in a convoy of Vision 2020 roadtrains…
At a steady 56km/h the miles just fly by, and the view from your Vision 2020 cab is outstanding….and all you can hear is the steady swoosh, swoosh, swoosh as your trundle along the road…
And those dashboard instruments are telling you everything is fine–in fact you don’t see them until you need them and as the Green Corridor convoy guidance systems locks in there’s even time for you to…
Stretch out, take your hands off the wheel and your feet off the pedals, lean back and relax….can it really be happening? Yes it is! And you’re safe in the knowledge that the automatic guidance system has it all covered…
And before you know it you’re pulling into the depot and parking up your Vision 2020 and it’s twin trailer load of heaven knows what…thanks Aina for the trip into the future! And keep an eye out for that video clip. Is this your idea of the truck of the future? Let me know. And by 2020 do you reckon Volvo’s D16 diesel will be pushing out a 1000hp and 4,000Nm of torque?! I reckon at 66 I might still be driving so book me a Vision 2020 test drive now….after all age is no barrier to truck driving…right Vic?