Volvo has outlined its vision of long distance transport in the future: long combination vehicles, controlled by autopilot, driven non-stop in nose-to-tail convoys on green super-motorways linking the continents.
In convoy mode the autopilot is engaged allowing the driver to rest.
Design director Rikard Orell, one of the brains behind Volvo’s new Concept Truck 2020, says: “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.”
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 travel across continents at 56 mph. “This will be possible when the transport sector’s vision of green corridors becomes reality,” says 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.
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 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.
The aim of the design team was to create a sleek shape that reduces the perception of the vehicle’s size.
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.
“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,” says Orell.
Work on the external design has focused largely on aerodynamics. “We have come so far with the front of the vehicle that further changes to the basic shape provide only marginal improvements,” says 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.”