Airstream’s far-out (wacky?) ideas of the future

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By Chuck Woodbury
There is a principle in business: Always make enough improvement in your products each year so you can sell your customers the latest model. That’s why car fins were promoted heavily back in the ’60s, then, a few years later — when everybody wised up that they were beyond ugly — consumers rushed out to buy a new model that didn’t look like a Batmobile.

RV manufacturers are ever trying to be the first to introduce cool things that they have never offered before, things that none of their competitors offer. Slideouts started this way. Electric fireplaces started this way. Ditto big screen TVs, two bathrooms, built in vacuums, heated floors, wine coolers, and the latest big thing, the built-in, pull-out doggie bowl.

When will it end? (Never?)

SO HERE COMES AIRSTREAM with new innovations that further complicate the idea of getting away from it all — from camping — from making s’mores and telling ghost stories by the campfire. CEO Bob Wheeler explained to the website Gear Patrol about the latest, greatest innovations in the sleek, silver trailers.

He said the Airstream Smart Control app has been a “game changer.” While not new, the app dovetails with Airstream’s Multiplex control system to give a smartphone power over things like climate, lighting, awning extension, and tank and resource levels — designed, we assume, for people who do not know how to turn a dial or flip a switch. 

“What’s new will be the ability to link this system to the cloud, so you can understand, control and monitor your Airstream from anywhere,” Wheeler told Gear Patrol. So it’s kinda like a TV remote control that controls all kinds of things that really aren’t needed in a mini-home with tires.

“Say you’re on a hike and there’s a storm system approaching your area,” he says, without mentioning that anyone with brains would have looked at the weather report before leaving. “We could send you an alert that it’s coming and offer to retract your awning. Or if the temperature is rapidly dropping, we can offer to turn on the heater to warm up the water in your tanks so it doesn’t freeze,” he says.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We think a good app for 2021 models would be one that monitors your dog’s appetite so that when it’s hungry, it releases food into its built-in, pull-out doggie bowl. Another good app would be one that you could use with your smartphone on the pot while playing solitaire, and then use to flush without having to resort to an old-fashioned foot pedal.

Artificial Intelligence, Wheeler continued, could even understand your water and other resource levels (like propane or electricity) and calculate when you’ll need to top off — and how much you’ll need — before you head “into the wilderness” (his words), where one percent of RVers actually stay.

And if that’s not enough, he’s talking about self-driving trailers.

Once you get to a tight campsite (out there in the wilderness), Wheeler says you can detach the trailer and control it from your phone to maneuver it into the parking space under its own power. Plus, established campsites (they wouldn’t be in the wilderness, though) would have power poles that could double as charging stations, giving you medium-to-fast charging at a number of places. He didn’t say what you might want to charge. Phones? Maybe the self-driving trailer — that must be it.

Yikes! Whatever happened to camping? This new technology will drive us all batty. Isn’t the idea of camping to get away from the complexities of life? And, heaven forbid we break down in a small town somewhere and the only mechanic for 100 miles is challenged fixing anything beyond a flat tire.

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Rory R

One thing I don’t understand about some in the RV’ing community, they purchase a nine yr old unit and expect it to run forever. They complain when something on it fails, remember it is 9 years old, parts and systems wear out…..

Rory R

This app as you said is nothing new, something of the sort has been offered on Class A DP for some time now. The only time I have ever used it is when my wife left her keys in the rig and had to call me to get in, because she didn’t remember the digital password either. I have friends who travel with pets and use it to monitor temps and A/C. Other then that I see no big deal….

ThreeQuarterTon

Just got rid of a 2013 motorhome with ELECTRONIC TOILETS!! Bought a 2011 5er with electronic leveler, automatic level function doesn’t work, (control board) so to level the unit you have to go to emergency mode. Perhaps one day I will spend the $600. to replace the board, or maybe not. Bottom line, what do you do when you are boondocking in the middle of nowhere and mother nature decides to send you a couple of massive sunspots and all your expensive electronic toys become expensive JUNK??

Mike

To airstream, keep it simple stupid (kiss method). Look what electronics has done to the millennial’s.

Tom

I wonder does the app have a Direct link to Manufacturer / dealer to report and request a warranty repair.

Stephen E Pustell

The ‘Self Driving’ trailer is actually a good idea. There are places a trailer can be put much more easily if you don’t have to have it attached to a tow vehicle. I have always wondered about a power drive for a trailer to help the average person to park their trailer in a difficult location. .. And for all people, a self motivating trailer would allow positioning the trailer more advantageously on the site. Positioning that would Never be possible with a tow vehicle attached.

Taanda

Airstreams/RVs aren’t really for rough camping. They’re for retirees, and snowbirds. They’re for people who want to travel around the country for a couple years, rather than once a year, for two weeks. They’re for people who have mobile jobs, and people for whom living in hotels, while paying rent/mortgage seems wasteful. Plus, you can still do off-grid camping, with no hookups, for weeks at a time, in a prepared travel-trailer, or RV. I really would suggest reading about full time rvers, before acting like RVs/trailers are useless. You sounds like you’re complaining about how the oven doesn’t wash dishes. Of course not! It’s not meant to! Still, I agree with other commenters about improving storage, and hoping airstream interviews actual owners for improvements.

Gene Bjerke

I may be just an old curmudgeon, but I think all fancy systems should have a manual override.

Randy Shrimplin

I loved your inserted comments. This seems to me to be just another prime example of “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” I have a 2019 Alpine 5th wheel. It has a “smart” touch screen system with a worthless app. All it really does is allow me to push 3 buttons, enter a security PIN, and then push another button to turn on a set of lights. Due to this stupid system, I can not just turn on one light, I have to turn on “kitchen lights” or “Living room lights.” Oh, and I have to walk to the panel in the bedroom hall to turn on said Kitchen lights, I can’t just turn them on from the Kitchen. OK, I could turn them on from the Kitchen with my phone by simply finding my phone, connecting to the rigs wifi network instead of one that actually goes to the internet, running the app, logging into the app, finding the proper control in the app, and pushing the on screen button. I am seriously considering ripping it all out.

I spoke with the engineers that built the product. (I am an electronics engineer) I wanted to add a trigger switch in the water bay for the water pump. After a long discussion about the possibility of rewriting the entire program we basically determined that “It can’t be done.”

Walker

Without businesses continually searching for innovations that might be attractive to buyers, we would be without cell phones, high def flat screen TVs, pod coffee, internet, laptop computers, GPS, …you can add to this much more. Innovation is a GOOD thing.

Jeff Craig

Technology marches on, Chuck. People get used to technology making their lives easier, and safer, so you shouldn’t be surprised that these tools/toys are reaching the RV industry as they are scaled up and adopted in the automobile industry. Personally, I like the idea of being able to remotely start my generator, tank heaters and such (especially the awning bit) if I’m at the track for a NASCAR race, or someplace like that. My biggest concern is that people will come to rely on these tools and ‘get away’ in an area that won’t have 5G LTE, (or even 3G….) and their rig ends up damaged BECAUSE they relied exclusively on them.

I guess the trick is to know what a tools proper use is, but plan ahead in case you don’t have said tool.

Bull

More schidt to break and wait for the repair for new Airstream owners!

As stated previously by Sink Jaxon when is Airstream just like several well known OEM vehicle manufacturer’s going to stop using their customers as their product and quality testing program?

Sink Jaxon

How about they just get their quality control in order? What a novel idea.

CandaceB

I agree completely. We were new to RVing when we went on the road two years ago and figure we’ve spent at least $500 on fancy apps and gadgets that we ended up not using, including a $200 leveling app that we used twice and replaced with a $3.99 level tool from Home Depot.

We have an Airstream and admit we were attracted by the brochure showing wine glasses on the counter and satiny spreads on perfectly made beds. We laugh about it now because that’s not our lifestyle at all.

We love our Airstream’s tow ability and the way it braves the wind. But if they want to add something how about talking to Airstream owners first? We could tell them a thing or two.

Robbie

Perhaps Airstream should work on keeping it simple, like improving the storage, first.

Phil

Kind of snarky there, but I get your drift. Remember though, that all of the GOOD improvements in our day-to-day lives (AND RVing…) came from someone pushing the limits, investing their own money, and seeing what really works. That being said, I hope for their sake that the innovators ask actual users what they need and want…

Will

Phone app controls? That assumes one has a cell signal. Not sure if the Airstream CEO has been out of his office lately, but there aren’t cell signals in a lotta parts of the US where people like to camp.

We’re driving Highway 1 along the Pacific Coast right now and there’s only cell service for a block or two when we pass through little towns, and never any service in state parks we’ve stayed in.

Fine by us. We have a bunch of new fangled book things that don’t need a cell signal to read. They’re quite the innovation, these books. No batteries needed either.

Dave W

What happened to the KISS principle when it comes to RVing? We were just as happy, or even moreso with a popup then in 1975 with a simple 5th wheel that had just everything manual and was towed by a simple Ford pickup that had *gasp* air conditioning. No self leveling, no fancy climate control, no TV until I installed a B&W with rabbit ears to occupy the kids on a rainy weekend. Why bother – stay at home with your smart home operated by your smart phone and never leave. Same thing. Don’t get me started on “glamping” too…..

Patrick Granahan

Camping was always “getting away from it all…back to nature”….now Air Stream wants us to bring it all with us.
Keep it simple and enjoy the outdoors…leave that smart phone at home…remember to bring your fishing pole !

Andy Zipser

This all reminds me of last year’s big splash by KOA, when it unveiled its “campground of the future.” Maybe the same folks are behind both concepts?