The new Actros: RoadStars has visited the developers
Vehicle & Technology
It caused quite a stir at this year’s IAA Commercial Vehicle Show, and in the spring the first vehicles will be delivered to customers: with the new Actros, Mercedes-Benz Trucks has taken the leap into the digital high-tech era. RoadStars provides an insight into its development and shows what the new flagship can do.
Never before has Markus Wolf driven as many kilometres on small country roads in Europe as he has this year. He is usually based at the Truck Development and Test Centre (EVZ) at the Mercedes-Benz manufacturing plant in Wörth. But this spring the test driver did fewer laps on the impressive circular test track there. Instead, he spent a lot of time travelling between Portugal and Scandinavia, driving his test rig equipped with measuring technology. The job: to put the new Actros through its paces.
“We did an awful lot of driving away from the main traffic arteries in order to do as many test kilometres as possible in all kinds of traffic and road conditions,” recalls the 48-year-old Daimler employee. “Taking the cross-country route with many roundabouts and winding roads can be quite exhausting after a while. But the new Actros has a lot to offer that helps the driver keep fit.” And helps keep fuel consumption low, he could have added.
Keeping costs down thanks to Predictive Powertrain Control.
During these trips, one of the tasks for Markus Wolf and the engineers on the team was to further optimise the cruise control and Predictive Powertrain Control system. It is also thanks to their efforts that the new Actros used up to five per cent less fuel on this type of trip than its predecessor.
In addition to a satellite-based positioning system, the system uses high-precision digital road maps. These maps now contain not only data about the topography; they also include detailed characteristics of curves, the exact geometry of intersections and roundabouts off the motorways, as well as the traffic signs and speed limits along the route. This allows the Predictive Powertrain Control system to optimise the driving style not only during descents or inclines, but also on winding roads where the use of cruise control had previously not been ideal. “It helps avoid unnecessary braking, accelerating and gear changing. It saves fuel and makes my job as a driver easier,” explains Markus Wolf.
Before they reached that stage, the first new test Actros trucks had to clock up quite a bit of mileage. This involved many other test drivers, in addition to Markus Wolf. Their objective was to also bring all the other major innovations on the new Actros up to serial production standard: Active Drive Assist, MirrorCam, Active Brake Assist 5 and the new Multimedia Cockpit, in addition to Predictive Powertrain Control.
“The sternest critics of any new vehicle are always our own test drivers,” says Samuel Keller. “Before any truck goes into serial production and is then delivered to customers, it is up to these drivers to identify potential improvements. These colleagues of ours therefore approach any new systems with a very critical eye. To them it is a matter of personal honour.”
Keller is a development engineer and works for the Chief Engineer in charge of all the development activities for the new Actros project. This involves coordinating with many different departments and hundreds of people, and dealing with a diverse range of topics.
World first – partially automated driving in a truck.
“With the new Actros, our focus was less on the iron and steel side, but more on intelligent mechatronics systems,” explains Samuel Keller. “It is in this area where the Actros has made a really big leap forward!”
One example here is the new Active Drive Assist, a world first in a production truck. The system is capable of partially automated driving across all speed ranges. Active Drive Assist supports the driver, and it can brake, accelerate and steer autonomously. The result is greater safety and less stress, especially on motorways and trunk roads.
60 innovations plus a few more are built into the new Actros.
“In the area of automated braking and acceleration we had already gained a lot of experience from working with Proximity Control Assist along with the stop-and-go function,” says Keller. “This allowed us to achieve good results quite quickly in this area.” The main task was therefore the fine-tuning of the steering behaviour. “To get the system to the stage at which it is now called for countless hours of driving. This is where our test drivers have done an outstanding job, both at the Truck Development and Test Centre (EVZ) at Wörth and out on public roads!”
The result: Active Drive Assist makes driving more comfortable, allowing the driver to be more relaxed on the road. The result: the system will not only slow the new Actros down if it drives too close behind the vehicle ahead and then accelerates again up to the preset speed; it will also actively hold the truck in its lane across all speed ranges. To do so, the system takes its bearings from the lane markings on both sides of the road using a camera. Good for safety: even if the driver has switched Active Drive Assist off and the truck threatens to veer out of its lane, the driver is alerted through visual and acoustic signals, and the – also new – Lane Departure Protection function returns the vehicle back into its proper lane through an active steering intervention.
Only with Mercedes-Benz Trucks: MirrorCam for better all-round vision.
The new MirrorCam – like Active Drive Assist – is a world first in truck equipment. Numerous tests have also been conducted with this innovative system, both in the laboratories and on the test tracks. “Those tests were all about the reliability of the system, and about quite specific aspects such as the optimal positioning of the displays, the size of the monitors, and the readability of the displays in the dark,” said Samuel Keller. “Driving on test tracks and on public roads was therefore essential to ensure that the system really does produce the desired improvements.”
Instead of the conventional main and wide-angle mirrors, the MirrorCam relies entirely on digital cameras and display screens. The cameras are mounted on the roof frame on the right and on the left. The captured images are displayed on two large displays fitted to the A-pillars inside the cab. One positive side effect is that the driver has an unobstructed view diagonally forward, past the A-pillars, in effect enlarging his field of vision – a massive advantage in roundabouts and at intersections.
Several additional functionalities of the MirrorCam provide further assistance to the driver: going around a bend, the viewing angle on the internal display pivots accordingly, resulting in an optimal view of the entire trailer – a considerable improvement compared to a conventional mirror system. When travelling in a straight line, distance lines on the display help the driver estimate the distance to the vehicles coming up from behind. A special manoeuvring display provides the driver with a better overall view: the upper part of the display shows the surroundings near the vehicle, while the lower part gives a view of the more distant surroundings. If Sideguard Assist is installed, the monitor for the MirrorCam displays warnings whenever critical situations arise.
“With regard to safety and vehicle handling, the MirrorCam is an enormous improvement,” confirms test driver Markus Wolf. But these compact digital cameras also offer significant benefits in terms of aerodynamics. This is one of the main reasons why the new Actros uses up to three per cent less fuel on motorways and dual carriageways than its predecessor – a considerable saving for many transport companies.
The new Multimedia Cockpit revolutionises the driver’s workplace.
Replacing the conventional instrument cluster with a speedometer, a tachometer and a fuel gauge as well as the panel of switches and buttons on the dashboard, the new Actros features two large display screens instead – they form the heart of the new Multimedia Cockpit.
Samuel Keller: “The interface between the driver and the machine in the new Actros is an interactive, networked computer whose many functions make the driver’s work and life in the truck a whole lot easier.”
Up to 5% fuel saving can be achieved with the new Actros on country roads, and up to 3 per cent on motorways and dual carriageways – not least thanks to the improved aerodynamics and the optimised Predictive Powertrain Control.
The developers tested all the functionalities of the Multimedia Cockpit with numerous test persons in a specially equipped driving simulator in the HMI laboratory (HMI stands for Human Machine Interface) in Untertürkheim, and gradually optimised the cockpit. “The tests revolved around operating concepts, ergonomics and, of course, design,” recalls Keller. “Not only is the new Multimedia Cockpit appealing with its modern look; its numerous innovative functions and the intuitive menu structure result in even greater driving, working and operating comfort.”
The high-resolution colour screen of the main display behind the steering wheel shows all the vehicle-related information, as well as the driving and operating conditions, in a clean and clear layout. The secondary display, which is a touch screen, is mounted on the dashboard. It is used to control all the additional functions inside the truck, such as lighting, infotainment and telephone, in a convenient, intuitive manner.
Both the primary colour display and the secondary touch display can also be controlled via Touch Control Buttons mounted on the new multifunction steering wheel. Using swiping and pressing gestures, the driver can operate both screens safely from the steering wheel even while driving.
Most of the functions that were traditionally activated using hardware switches are now controlled via the touch display. This offers a high degree of flexibility, especially in combination with different attachments and superstructures, and facilitates their control. The working and operating comfort in the Multimedia Cockpit is further enhanced through the high level of connectivity, with ports for hooking up various types of mobile terminals. As well as two USB ports, there is the hands-free kit with dual Bluetooth, which allows two mobile phones to be connected simultaneously, and smartphone integration is available via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Yet another advantage of the new Multimedia Cockpit: the driver’s tachograph card lets the truck remember the settings for up to six drivers, automatically restoring them when inserted.
An upgrade available for the Multimedia Cockpit in the new Actros is Multimedia Cockpit interactive, which offers additional functionalities and even greater networking and connectivity. The main display is significantly larger than that of the standard Multimedia Cockpit.
Multimedia Cockpit interactive includes a navigation system incorporating a road sign assistant, and Remote online for controlling and monitoring vehicle functions via a smartphone. In addition to hands-free telephony, the new cockpit also features wireless smartphone charging.
This upgrade is geared towards providing maximum connectivity: vehicles with Multimedia Cockpit interactive can connect to the Mercedes-Benz Truck App Portal and download apps designed to boost comfort and efficiency.
New Active Brake Assist 5 with improved pedestrian detection.
Yet another highlight of the new Actros is the new Active Brake Assist 5. This emergency braking assistant now operates using a combined radar and camera system. One of the benefits is the improved response to the presence of pedestrians within the truck’s speed range of up to 50 kilometres per hour. Active Brake Assist 5 is capable of responding not only to the presence of other vehicles within the limits of the system, but also whenever it detects pedestrians crossing, approaching from the front or walking in the truck’s own lane, by initiating an emergency braking manoeuvre.
“It goes without saying that with safety and assist systems, the interaction between software and hardware needs to be 100 per cent reliable,” says Samuel Keller. “For this reason, we tested and retested all the systems that are now built into the Actros at the Hardware-in-the-Loop laboratory before they were incorporated into the vehicle.” In this laboratory, all components – with the exception of the engine, transmission and axles – are connected just as they are in a real vehicle. Whenever automated emergency braking is simulated, the brake cylinders activate and the warning lights start flashing. “That’s when it really is ‘action stations’ here!” says Samuel Keller.
“For me as a driver, the new Actros represents a giant leap forward for life on the road in terms of convenient operation and safety,” is how Markus Wolf sums it up.
The bottom line for Samuel Keller is: “We don’t just talk about things like automated driving and digitisation; with the new Actros we are actually putting these innovations on the road right now, and across the board. This gives us a very good launch pad for the rapid integration of additional future technologies into our trucks that will add further value for our customers.”
Photos: Matthias Aletsee
Video: Martin Schneider-Lau