There's a technology war heating up in the big-rig commercial truck market that may have implications for the pickup-truck segment. Big-truck manufacturers are searching for every way possible to save fuel and make their trucks more efficient, smarter and more capable of bringing products to market faster and safer than ever before.
Daimler AG, one of the world's biggest commercial truckmakers, is working on the Highway Pilot, a truck that drives itself down the road, freeing the driver for other tasks or simply to rest. According to The Detroit News the technology of the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 is still 10 years away, and the trucking industry has many safety and policy issues to work out before a self-driving truck will be allowed on the road in the U.S. or Europe. But the cost savings and safety benefits of a truck that uses constantly updating computer and satellite information could be a huge advantage (see video below).
Likewise, German component supplier ZF is also working on new technology that would allow a driver to control a big rig and trailer from outside the truck with a tablet device. According to the Commercial Carrier Journal, the benefits could include navigating a large commercial vehicle into tight spaces or controlling the powertrain parameters for maximum fuel efficiency over long hauls (see video below).
This technology has been around for a while and is just now working its way into segments of the auto industry that are able to make the hefty initial costs profitable over time — technology like Volvo Dynamic Steering that Volvo AB used in the Jean-Claude Van Damme "Epic Split" video in which he executes the splits in between two big-rig trucks (see video below). The Dynamic Steering technology uses hydraulic power steering along with sophisticated electric motors to smooth out both high- and low-speed road irregularities. The system can be tied into other systems, such as cruise control in either forward or reverse gears, or with proximity sensors.
What implications these technologies will have for personal-use pickups is anyone's guess, but we're likely to get some variation of all three of these systems in one form or another within the next 20 years. Automated vehicles, hands-free driving and app-controlled parking could prove to be handy for some option-hungry truck buyers. However, with all the current attention on how precise engineers have to be about every technology installed in a vehicle, it's difficult to imagine that all the unintended consequences of features like these can be anticipated. We'll just have to wait and see.