Time for some tales with flashlight under chin: Futurist Simon Anderson speaks at TMW Systems' TransForum conference last month. (Photo by Aaron Marsh)
Emerging technologies that will be used by or could, one way or another, affect trucking and transportation may remind some readers of stuff seen in the movies — in many cases, make that horror movies. Fleet Owner caught up with futurist Simon Anderson of Venture Foresight for a (slightly creepy) look at some of the latest trends and compared them to scenes from the big screen.
1. Autonomous or semi-autonomous trucks. For most people, the first time they get into a self-driving vehicle is a weird feeling. As advanced — and even potentially more reliable — as autonomous trucks and cars being tested today already may be, it's hard to shake that uneasiness of wondering if the vehicle will make the right moves... and what it might or might not do next. It's a little like the 1983 horror classic Christine, where a nerdy kid buys an old car that turns out to be possessed.
Creepiness aside, Anderson points out that autonomous trucks and cars could have positive impacts on road safety, road usage, insurance rates and fuel use. Though that's likely still some years away, he notes that the driver experience could be greatly improved in the interim as semi-autonomous systems take over some duties from drivers, reducing workload and related stress. That could improve morale and reduce turnover.
[We'll include this trailer for the 2015 prequel, since this one's just had an update.]
2. The expanding Internet(s) of things. Interconnected devices are a big trend in trucking and telematics, linking controllability and data recording from a broad range of things including electronic control modules, sensors of all kinds, cameras, servos and more. It's not unlike the concept of smart homes, streets and cities — and if you don't know this stuff is there and doing what it's doing, Anderson says, it could seem like you're in a haunted house with things coming to life on their own.
Anderson predicts that everything from connected toasters to thermostats to lighting will be ubiquitous in homes within a few years (maybe even truck sleeper berths?). You'll see it in transportation as well in vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity as this tech becomes more available and will improve the quality and quantity of data used in business intelligence platforms.
3. 3D printing and carbon 3D liquid printers. Back when the movie hit theaters in 1991, the liquid metal robot/cyborg seen in Terminator 2: Judgement Day seemed entirely science-fictional. That's no longer the case now that 3D printing in all its forms and possibilities has become potentially one of the most impactful, groundbreaking technologies around.
Make that "groundmaking." Anderson points to massive 3D printers from companies in China, the United States, Italy and elsewhere being able to print actual houses very inexpensively and quickly using materials from dirt and clay to fast-drying concrete. Or Carbon3D, a company based in Redwood City, CA, is making printers that instead of printing layer upon layer of material can print solid objects in liquid resin.
[In this case, the tech itself is certainly worth a look — check out this video from Carbon3D showing the company's Continuous Liquid Interface Production technology printing a model of the Eiffel Tower.]
Even in less exotic forms, 3D printing technology now available is allowing engineers to print parts of vehicles — including trucks — with less weight and higher strength, notes Anderson. That could mean better fuel economy, and it also creates a way to replace broken or failing components with parts that are printed on demand, he adds.
Apply that also to the world of manufacturing at large, and you begin to see how much trucking and goods transport really could be affected by 3D printing. Note that Amazon applied for a patent earlier this year for a system that would use 3D printers aboard trucks to produce and deliver items as buyers order them.