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Ways Pickups are Adapting to the Future:
Pickup trucks are one of the mainstays of US roads. In many ways they reflect a lot of the attributes we also value in citizens. They are built to work hard. They exemplify freedom, are designed to explore off-road, and take us into parts unknown. They are as symbolic as they are practical — as a result, it’s likely they’ll be a prominent feature of our landscape for many years to come.
That said, there’s no denying that our automotive tastes, tech, and industries are changing. We have integrated a great deal of advanced technology into our lives over the past couple of decades, and manufacturers have begun to explore ways this can enhance our driving experiences. From improved safety features to artificial intelligence (AI), our vehicles are moving into the future.
But what does this mean for our pickups? We’ll take a look at some of the ways this is affecting our favorite off-road workhorses, and how they are being made compatible with our shiny, technological future.
There’s little argument that we all need to take greater responsibility for our impact on the environment. We are on the brink of significant irreversible damage to our environment, and two areas of concern that we must focus on are fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Using vehicles less is one option, with the added bonus that auto coverage providers such as Travelers Insurance often offer discounts based on usage. That said, electric vehicle (EV) technology has become not just more practical, but also more affordable in recent years. While this has primarily been for cars and small vehicles, we are starting to see inroads for pickup trucks too.
In the short term, manufacturers have been exploring whether all-electric pickups can handle the workloads that owners demand. Recently, Ford released a teaser video showing tests with their prototype F-150 electric pickup. Located in a railyard, the test revealed the fully electric prototype was capable of pulling a million pounds of weight. A new patent filed by the manufacturer has also shown that they’ve also taken into account the stress batteries may place on the frame, and have made design adjustments to ensure it is not just strong, but flexible too.
Perhaps the biggest news in the electric pickup market recently has been Tesla’s unveiling of the Cybertruck. While there have certainly been some mixed comments with regard to its angular, sci-fi design, it nonetheless presents a unique view into EV pickups of the near future. Due to go into production as early as 2021, it shows that the manufacturer has taken care to consider how their EV will be used — even their base model will provide 250 miles of range on a single charge, and can carry a 3,500 pound payload.
While many advances in vehicle technology are usually aimed at the general market, there are some which are targeted squarely at pickups. Engineers have been looking at some of the ways in which pickup owners use their vehicles, and focused on creating smart solutions. Among the more interesting are improvements to visibility when carrying large loads.
For some years now, manufacturers have been using sensors for blindspot monitoring. With RAM’s most recent entry into the market, the RAM 1500, we’re beginning to see how development is continuing for pickup trucks’ unique challenges. The new application — Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Path and Trailer Detection — now allows drivers towing large trailers to scan to the far rear of their load, and are alerted to oncoming vehicles in the next lane. No additional calibration is required from the driver, the system automatically senses and adjusts for the size of the load being towed.
There have also been advancements in so-called “X-Ray vision” concepts for pickup owners towing trailers. GMC’s new Sierra HD — due for production in 2020 — has HD cameras scattered about its body, providing drivers with up to 15 different views around their vehicle, including an additional camera that can be mounted to the back of the load. Perhaps more importantly, the images from these views can be lined up to give the impression that the trailer is transparent. This will improve drivers’ ability to easily see vehicles on the road behind them.
Perhaps one of the most exciting, yet controversial, future technologies on the horizon is vehicle automation. There are certainly concerns regarding safety, and we certainly don’t have the infrastructure in place. Even practical queries, such as how much auto insurance is sufficient in case of accidents, and who is liable, will be affected by vehicle automation. Yet, it offers the potential to allow us to take longer journeys, and perhaps limit incidents caused by human error. Self-driving cars are starting to nudge their way onto our roads, but how close are we to automated pickups?
Given that pickup drivers tend to purchase their vehicles because they actually like to drive them personally, there isn’t a significant amount of focus on full automation. However, some manufacturers are focusing on up to level 3 automation — still substantial, with vehicles detecting their environments and making informed decisions, but drivers are still able to override this.
Rivian is currently developing a suite of electric vehicles with this level of automation in mind, using a combination of LiDAR, high-precision GPS, and multiple cameras and sensors. Their system is also designed to ignore accidental input by the human driver, using sensors, cameras, and onboard programming to determine whether the movement was intentional.
For the most part, drivers of pickup trucks are discerning in their choices, opting for a vehicle that allows them a greater level of freedom and practicality. Advances in technology are reflecting this approach, with developers approaching challenges specifically faced in off-road environments and towing large loads. While fully-automated pickups are likely some way off, manufacturers are still embracing futuristic elements to provide a more technologically-enhanced experience.