Have you wondered what a full-blown driverless truck might look like if they ever hit our roads?
A truck without a human onboard could be a very different kind of vehicle from what we see on roads today.
We’re not talking about the autonomous truck designs we have seen so far, which have pretty much been conventional trucks, designed from the ground up with human occupants as a primary consideration, but with experimental autonomous control systems added for evaluation purposes.
A fully autonomous truck that has been designed from the start with the understanding that human beings may be onboard the vehicle for less than 1 per cent of its operating life. In other words a proper robot truck
For starters, there probably won’t be a cab or anything remotely resembling one . On any given prime mover today, roughly a third of the vehicle configuration is devoted to keeping human drivers and passengers comfortable and productive.
As well as that the truck cab has to be arranged in a way to serve as a home away from home for long-haul drivers. However without humans in the cab all that space, weight and materials would suddenly be superfluous.
As a result you wouldn’t require stereo and infotainment systems, air suspension seats, large windows, dashboards, beds, storage spaces, work desks, nooks and other compartments would be unnecessary on a truly autonomous truck. There’d be no need for a high-rise roof or skylights. Large, panoramic windows and windscreens and large rear-view mirrors would be gone and you could probably get rid of windscreen wipers as well.
However, you might need some sort of rudimentary jump-seat and steering wheel for the few times a human, most likely a technician , who may need to move the truck around. and apart from needing the room and windows to meet that basic need, that would be all you’d need for human interaction with the vehicle.
All of the vital powertrain data would be captured, transmitted and recorded via telematics, so outside a basic ECM access panel, there would be no need for all of the usual dials, switches, knobs, gauges or display screens that a truck today has in the cab. Something like a tablet computer and a good Wi-Fi connection might be the only human-vehicle interface required.
That means all of the front third cab structure of a modern prime mover would be obsolete. This would free up engineers to do all sorts of interesting and innovative things with that space. This could mean more space could be devoted to cargo carrying and that would be possible because a considerable amount of weight would be deleted with the removal of all the creature comforts humans require.
Aerodynamic considerations would suddenly become the dominant engineering factor for the front end of a truck and designers would be free to move engine, cooling, and exhaust systems around at will to accommodate new, highly efficient designs that would cut through the air like a scaled-up Ferrari or McLaren supercar.
These changes could affect trailer design as well, so there would be the opportunity for more payload capacity and cube space, but generally it would likely see a longer and sleeker truck as the primary design considerations for future trailers in an autonomous world.
All of these changes would transform the current version of a prime mover into something that more closely resembled a high-speed bullet train than a long-nosed US style truck or a big slab faced cab over favoured by European makers.
The reality is that there is already a global army of vehicle designers hard at work on these new concepts and the radical new vehicles they will eventually spawn.