The world of long-haul trucking is changing rapidly in this decade. There are still plenty of goods to be trucked from point A to point B, but issues of driver safety, accidents, regulations, emissions and financial concerns weigh on the industry. Additionally, the world of logistics is changing, and as we have seen, even the truck itself, and its relationship to logistics networks, will change in the next few years.
A new definition of ‘truck’
Siemens, the German electronics and logistics company, along with the Technical University of Munich decided to step into this rapidly changing transport landscape with their ‘Diesel Reloaded’ project. The project imagined a innovative future for the truck: A hyperlocal energy grid that augments and also stabilizes fluctuations in regional power systems which draw their energy from renewable sources. It could also serve a mobile generating station or a charging point for multiple electric vehicles. This Innovation-Truck – Innotruck – would form a vital part of any local transport and energy infrastructure.
The cockpit also explored new options in driver-machine-infrastructure interface, with the on-board computer becoming a ‘mobility assistant’ to aid not only in driving, but in communication with a larger infrastructural grid that could monitor traffic flow and safety. The driver’s computer would take into account their abilities and alertness and adjust the vehicle’s speed and maneouverability accordingly.
The result is a new vision for the truck: A new type of vehicle that acts within a larger communication and energy infrastructure, extending and augmenting its range and scope.
All these high-concept mobile infrastructure ideas would be only mildly interesting if encased inside a traditional truck. But Siemens decided to up the ante by bringing on Luigi Colani as the project’s designer. Colani, who is well known for his outlandish ‘biodynamic’ designs, has worked at all scales of mobility from motorcycles to megaplanes. For the Innotruck, Colani decided to update his ‘Supertruck’ design of 2006.
The Supertruck’s fundamental idea is to maximize aerodynamic efficiency and fuel economy by sculpting the truck cab, powerplant, and trailer into a cohesive aerodynamic whole. As seen in the Innotruck version, this means an unorthodox inversion of traditional cab-engine-trailer relationship. The cab is integrated into the trailer, and is reduced to a conical glass canopy projected out from the streamlined trailer body. The driving module or powerplant is a low-slung race car-shaped pod that sits below the driving canopy. Here, a modified diesel engine serves as a range extender for the electric power system. This pod not only powers the Innotruck, it steers it like a traditional cab would. Colani claimed that this combination of Concorde-like canopy and sleek low-slung power pod would greatly improve aerodynamics and overall performance.
To access the interior, one pressed a remote that would signal the canopy to slide forward and, after ascending a couple of steps, one would climb into the the driver’s seat. A small jumpseat behind this was available for a spare driver. Once seated the driver grasped the steering pod, which contains digital instrumentation in a skeumorphic simulation of an IP. This pod can send information to and from the driver as well as steer the Innotruck. Visibility out of the forward canopy seemed excellent despite some minor distortion because of the curved glass. Behind the cockpit was a small galley/closet.
The Innotruck had lounges and an exhibition space attached, but in theory, the trailers could be load haulers, or passenger carriages, or even generators for a mobile powerplant. Siemans noted that multiple trailer modules could be attached to one rig, creating a sort of micro-train.
A long history
The Innotruck was the latest in a long list of Colani experiments with the long haul trucking rig. He completed a number of prototypes with Daimler, which included his signature biodynamic design with an enormous round windscreen and sculpted surfaces on cab and trailer. The interior of the driver’s cab in these trucks seems to be their best feature – a generously appointed glasshouse floating above the traffic with excellent comfort and vision.
All of these experiments dovetail into Colani’s controversial philosophies and aesthetic. As we’ve noted before, it is very hard to maintain a neutral position about his work. You either believe he is a genius or a mad hatter, a charlatan with a singularly baroque style. Either way, Colani is unconcerned. His work continues forward seeking a biomorphic ideal he believes is found in the natural world, not the corporate design studio. Perhaps advanced computer modeling and fabrication will allow us to implement more of Colani’s ideas into future cars and trucks. And then he will have the last laugh at his critics.
There are plenty more images in our gallery on the right, plus some of Colani’s original, wild, creation. And here are a few more links:
Videos of Innotruck:
Colani Trucks Slideshow: