Self-driving electric Airstream trailer smartens up off-grid living
Airstream first introduced the boundary-pushing eStream travel trailer concept two weeks ago at the Florida RV SuperShow. While it provided a broad overview of the self-powered trailer concept, it left out some critical specs and details. Now it has filled in the blanks, explaining more about how the high-voltage 80-kWh lithium battery pack not only runs the range-boosting dual-motor electric drive but also creates a full glamping getaway hundreds of miles off-grid.
Airstream has confirmed that the eStream concept carries over the 80-kWh battery capacity of the most recent iteration of the concept's predecessor, the Dethleffs E.Home Coco prototype. It further quantified that the battery has 30 times the capacity of the largest lithium battery in any current Airstream production model. That energy is necessary for powering the electric drive that cuts the trailer's effective tow weight to nil, improving range and efficiency of the tow vehicle. Airstream estimates that the electric drive system increases the range the tow vehicle can pull the eStream by 50 to 75 percent when compared to towing a traditional non-powered trailer.
The dual-motor drive also provides other performance-enhancing advantages, offering integrated electronic stability control, anti-sway assist and added traction. Upon arrival, the trailer motors can lock, providing built-in anti-theft security.
To complement the e-drive in its primary goal of improving range and efficiency, Airstream designers did a full aerodynamics workup on the the eStream. They started with Airstream's famously sleek, slippery "Silver Bullet" design before smoothing out the roofline by removing equipment like air conditioners and vents, narrowing the profile by 8 inches (20 cm) compared to other Airstream trailers, smoothing the underfloor, and adding a rear diffuser. Airstream says that drag has reduced by 20 percent.
The eStream's two-piece 80-kWh battery isn't merely useful for the commute; it also offers big-time capability for powering onboard camper equipment when boondocking without shore power. In fact, Airstream envisions it whisking the conveniences of the modern smart home to the deepest patches of forest floor in the backcountry. The idea is to power all the traditional equipment, including air conditioning, plus some new cutting-edge systems, without LPG tanks or fuel-filled generators, offering clean, quiet battery-powered cooking, climate control, refrigeration and more.
"There's enough power in this concept travel trailer to bring all the comforts of home and to run all of its systems for an extended period of time off grid," said McKay Featherstone, Airstream's VP of product development and engineering. "It’s going to help customers go wherever they want to go and to stay there as long as they wish."
Of course, that will all depend on how much battery power gets sucked up during the drive to camp. In a test trip with the E.Home Coco prototype, Airstream's sister brand Dethleffs and project collaborator ZF consumed 74 kWh of the 80-kWh battery on the 240-mile (386-km) drive to camp, so even after adding in the reported 6 kWh of regenerated energy, they still had very little left over for camping. Managing onboard power for both the journeys to and from camp and the time spent there will be one of the unique challenges of electric camping, not only for electrified trailers but also electric motorhomes.
Airstream has added to the eStream's off-grid talents by capitalizing on the aforementioned stripped and smoothed roof, covering it with 900 watts of semi-flexible solar panels, double the capacity of any current Airstream model. The company feels comfortable estimating that the high-voltage battery and solar array will support off-grid camping for up to two weeks, but that sounds quite ambitious for anything but short-distance trips that don't use a bulk of the battery power during the drive to and from the campsite (or longer trips with obligatory camper-charging stops).
The eStream's battery-loaded electrical system is also being put to use in powering a next-generation state-of-the-art 5G connectivity system with signal booster and Wi-Fi hotspot. Not only will that system help support the "work-play-live lifestyle" by keeping trailer campers connected to the world at large, but it will create a smart-home-like experience at camp, with voice, touchscreen and mobile device control of features such as lighting and HVAC, plus troubleshooting and general product support. The highlight of app connectivity promises to be using a joystick-style mobile app to control the electric drive for remotely parking the Airstream trailer and maneuvering it to the tow vehicle for hitching.
The connectivity system will tie closely with the electrical architecture, providing full trip planning with driving range, efficiency optimization and charging point information features. When it comes time to recharge directly, beyond solar charging, the eStream works with both existing EV charging infrastructure and standard RV hookups.
While Airstream emphasized that the eStream itself is a one-off concept, parent company Thor Industries has officially partnered up with ZF Friedrichshafen to pursue self-driving trailer technology. The electrical architecture is scalable and can be built around battery packs ranging between 20- and 80-kWh, Airstream said.