Earlier this year, Wal-Mart introduced a concept for a new kind of eighteen-wheeler. Made entirely of carbon fiber, the truck has shed 4,000 pounds from its traditional counterpart.
A look at the tractor-trailer and one might expect Optimus Prime to heroically emerge and save the day. While the truck may disappoint on this front, it impresses on many others. It features advanced aerodynamics, electrified auxiliary components, and a cutting-edge turbine powertrain.
At a lighter weight, the truck is assumed to be less destructive. The lighter trailer is made of carbon fiber, solid 53-foot panels. Not only is this expensive, it is wasteful. At $5 a pound, carbon fiber requires costly, multi staged refining. Because of this, it is not widely used in automobiles. Steel is more commonly used in cars. When steel cars get into accidents, or are unusable, they are melted down and molded into new cars. Manufacturers use this process to save money, and resources. When carbon fiber becomes unusable, there is no effective recycling process. In its recycled form, carbon fiber is too weak to be used. This seems to result in wasted material and money.
The concept truck is called W.A.V.E (Wal-Mart Advanced Vehicle Experience) and is supposedly 20% more aerodynamic than Wal-Mart trucks on the road today, improving fuel economy by at least 10%. Imagine five semis separated from each other by a mere ten feet. Each of these trucks accelerates and brakes simultaneously. When a traffic light turns green, each vehicle accelerates at the exact same rate. Imagine the effect of this system on fuel efficiency, road congestion, safety, etc. This process is called “platooning” and has broad advantages.
The W.A.V.E is the result of recent investments in more efficient technologies. These investments are paving the way for vehicle-to-vehicle communication, which could allow the vehicles to operate without drivers. Research teams have already begun projects testing these technologies.
With the introduction of this unique, new concept, questions still remain. Will the safety of carbon fiber outweigh its cost and impracticality? How safe is this system of vehicle-to-vehicle communication? When will these technologies be available to the average consumer? Although we do not currently know the answers to these specific questions quite yet, the W.A.V.E is currently a glimpse into a driverless, carbon-fiber future.