The Future is Now
We've always designed our trailers to respond to the specific needs of our customers, so incorporating current customer preferences into evolving technologies is our priority.
All the recent buzz about autonomous trucks makes for some fun speculation on what tractor-trailers will look like in the future. Just for clarification, while the term "autonomous" suggests that these rigs are going to drive themselves, they really should be considered "self-directed" vehicles. The onboard technology—not only makes these units smart enough to sense and react to roads and traffic, but also makes them fuel efficient and more productive.
Daimler Trucks North America recently unveiled the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, which is comprised of a variety of advanced onboard technology systems from sensors that monitor movement around the vehicle and communicate and/or adjust or activate vehicle components—such as engine downspeeding, collision avoidance actions and braking, and more, all executed during driving.
Volvo Trucks of North America has discussed its future products, which include a look at a possible "semi-autonomous" design for which trailers may take on a whole new role. The company is currently exploring platooning-type technology whereby a series of two or more trailers would be "wirelessly" tethered to a tractor and have the ability to slip in and out of service (disconnect and reconnect) along the route making deliveries at designated warehouse points (infrastructure for this type of service is yet to be designed). The trailers would be wired and programmed to reach their loading and unloading areas to deliver or pick up cargo before rejoining the platoon. This parallels current warehousing practices where unattended conveyances travel the aisles to pick and/or stock shelves.
Last year Great Dane revealed, along with partners Walmart, Peterbilt, and Capstone Turbine, the Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience which showcased the latest in trailer technology including a body built extensively from carbon fiber, including one-piece carbon fiber panels for roof and sidewalls, saving nearly 4000 lbs. compared to a traditional design. The trailer's convex nose also improves aerodynamics while enhancing storage space inside the trailer.
While fleet efficiency is top-of-mind for Great Dane, the company is also focused on innovations towards telematics, safety, aerodynamics and lightweight design.
Charlie Fetz, Vice President of Design and Development at Great Dane says, "The biggest challenge is evaluating and determining which enhancements provide significant ROI for our customers rather than chasing the latest advancements."
So while innovation is critical and being customer-focused will help companies prioritize and steer where the industry is headed, it's important to not get too distracted with "shiny object syndrome."
Nevertheless Fetz agrees that with changing industry regulations change is inevitable, "We've always designed our trailers to respond to the specific needs of our customers, so incorporating current customer preferences into evolving technologies is our priority."