Xiao Xue has built a one-of-a-kind walking truck camper. No jacks. No tie-downs. No loading. Just hop in, and hang on. Xiao’s visionary sculpture takes us into the future. No truck required.
Imagine being transported 25 years into the future. In the year 2043 you see what appears to be a travel trailer coming towards you, but there’s no truck pulling it. The trailer is literally moving down the highway on its own.
The trailer pulls off the roadway onto a parking space a few feet away. Slowing to a gentle stop, a green light appears at the bottom of each wheel. A few seconds later, the side door opens and a single occupant emerges.
25 year old Ethan has just awoke from a nap and doesn’t see you at first. Then he jumps, startled to discover someone looking right at him. “Are you okay?” he asks, stepping back towards the trailer door.
You extend a hand to introduce yourself, but Ethan continues his retreat. Sensing his alarm, you lower your hand and compliment his trailer. With each passing word, Ethan relaxes. Then a big smile stretches across his face. “It’s been a long time since a stranger engaged me in a personal conversation!” Ethan exclaims. “You scared me.”
Somehow Ethan accepts your story of being from a different time, as if nothing you could say would surprise him. He explains that most of his friends and family have succumbed to virtual worlds and no longer leave their smart pod homes, much less talk face-to-face anymore.
Recognizing your usual interest in his trailer, Ethan begins to answer your questions; What is it? How does it work? Where are the motors and batteries?
Ethan explains that there are actually two sections that make up his trailer; the dwelling (trailer), and the integrated WMBS system; Wheel, Motor, Battery, and Sled. The WMBS system (pronounced “webs”) is universal across nearly all road-based transportation in 2043 and automatically adjusts to the size and weight of each load; smart pod, dwelling, or cargo container.
Ethan describes how the battery-sled system combines carbon fiber for structure and graphene for battery power. Carbon fiber has become cheaper to produce than aluminum, and graphene-based batteries are lighter and faster charging than lithium. The combination has completely revolutionized transportation.
As if on cue, the WMBS system chimes to signal a complete charge. You have so many more questions, but Ethan is eager to continue his journey. As he approaches the trailer, the entry door slides open and a friendly voice says, “Ready when you are, Ethan”.
“Not yet Ava. Hold please.”
Seeing your continued interest, Ethan stands in the door to answer a few more questions. After receiving verbal instructions on where to go, the WMBS system engages travel and automatically stops to recharge. During travel, he is free to walk about, sleep, watch movies, or tap-in to virtual experiences. People still manually drive cars and trucks in 2043, but only as a hobby.
And with that, Ethan smiles, steps into his trailer, and the door closes. With a gesture, the WMBS smoothly engages, swiftly moving forward and accelerating to highway speed. In a less than a minute, Ethan and his trailer are over the horizon.
The Walking Truck Camper
About one year ago, Truck Camper Magazine reader Lloyd Thomure sent us a link to something so out there that we didn’t know what to make of it. On the crowdfunding website Indiegogo, Canadian artist, Xiao Xue, was seeking financial support for, “A Walking Camper”.
Xiao was literally building a walking truck camper.
The backstory of Xiao’s project was equally unique. In mid-2016, a friend of Xiao’s was looking for a way to dispose of an abandoned 1980’s era Slumber-Queen truck camper with broken hydraulic jacks (see above).
Xiao took pity on the disabled camper. In her eyes, the unit had lost its truck, lost its vital supports, and was helplessly trapped in place. It needed a new beginning; a way to walk forward on its own.
Xiao was also inspired by a friend who had lost his leg in a forest fire accident. Focused on prosthetics, he gave little mind to his lost limb; a thought that sparked Xiao’s artistic vision.
As a Fine Arts student at the University of Victoria, Xiao set out to design a solution. She started with drawings of a new support and robotic leg system.
She followed these drawings with models demonstrating how the platform and robotic legs of her walking truck camper would work.
In late January of 2017, Xiao’s drawings and models were then put on display in downtown Victoria’s Odeon Alley Window Gallery.
Proof of concept in hand, Xiao went about building the final sculpture. With the help of Rainhouse, a technology-focused design, engineering, and manufacturing company in Victoria, Canada, Xiao fabricated the wood support platform, six I-beam legs, and the 1-horsepower motor system.
Above: Xiao’s walking truck camper takes its first steps
Xiao had just enough crowdfunding for the AmpFlow gear motor, VEX high voltage controller, deep cycle batteries, hall effect sensors, reed switches, six welded hydraulic cylinders, sprockets, bearings, coupling nuts, bolts, rods, sheets of metal, and other required items.
The 1,760 pound camper took its first 12 centimeter (.39-inch) steps in April of 2017; right on schedule. One small and inspiring step for truck camper kind.
Xiao named her kinetic sculpture, “Something To Ponder On”. The walking camper earned Xiao a bursary (scholarship) from the Victoria Visual Arts Legacy Society, and first place in the annual Rainhouse Technology Challenge.
Something To Ponder On
Xiao’s sculpture is calling us to think about the emotional experiences of limb loss and recovery. We may not have seen that perspective if it weren’t for her compelling backstory. Art is always better understood with history and perspective.
When we first saw Xiao’s walking truck camper, we immediately wanted to know why someone built it, and what it might suggest for the future of truck camping. Her moving truck camper sculpture may be crude by modern transportation standards, but it suggests a range of future possibilities.
We visited fellow truck camping friends in Silicon Valley, California this past November. Unbeknownst to us, Google had just initiated Waymo autonomous tests without a human in the driver position. As we explored the Silicon Valley area, we saw about a dozen Waymo self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans driving with us. If you think driverless technology isn’t about to start driving right next to you, get ready for a future shock.
Extrapolate Google’s self-driving technology a few years forward and the science fiction world of Ethan and his autonomous trailer doesn’t seem that far fetched.
The self-driving technology is available right now. Graphene batteries may not yet be ready to replace lithium yet, but lithium-powered Teslas, Nissan Leafs, and BMW i3’s have been driving among us for years. It’s likely only a matter of time until something like Ethan’s imagined trailer quietly whooshes past you in a campground.
Thank you, Xiao, for, “Something To Ponder On”. Your walking truck camper sculpture is inspiring, and gave us a lot to think about.
Xiao is offering her sculpture to anyone in the truck camper community who wants it. All you need to do is contact Xiao and pick it up. The sculpture is located in Victoria, British Columbia.