One thing is crystal clear: If we didn’t have long-haul truck traffic, Germany would come to a screeching halt. We would have no food produced outside our region, no cars, no cell phones — none of the things that make our lives pleasant today.
That makes the job done by our truck drivers all the more important and comprehensive, and that’s why we’ve tried to make their job easier with the new Actros. You can decide for yourself whether we’ve succeeded, but for now I want to tell you how the new Actros was developed, what it can do, and which of its qualities we consider important.
In any case, the story of how we developed our big new truck is at least as big as the truck itself. It involves coordination between the development, production, design, and sales teams, the varying interests of different players, and many work and coordination steps. To make sure we don’t lose our overview, we need a product control center where all of the process chains converge. And that’s my job.
The New Actros project
I work at the Product Management unit of Mercedes-Benz Trucks. My boss is the head of the project, and I’m a member of the team that is responsible for the development of the new Actros. Everything comes together in our team. When everything is running optimally, we plan, control, and coordinate processes in such a way that all of the specialist units are doing the right things at the right time to produce a revolutionary product as the final result. And we’ve succeeded in doing that with the new Actros.
One of the especially exciting aspects of my job is the fact that over time we work with an incredible number of different departments and specialist units. Over and over again, this gives us new perspectives on the product. In the beginning, my contact partners were mainly my colleagues from Advanced Development, but now that we’re about to launch production I’m mainly working with my colleagues at the plants and in the areas of sales and communications.
(Wo)manpower for the mammoth project
For a mammoth project like this one, you need a lot of manpower and, of course, lots of time. During the initial strategy phase, we addressed questions such as “What do we want to offer to the customers and the drivers?” and “What do we want to change, and what will we perhaps have to change?”
Our goal was to put an Actros full of technical innovations on the road. In my opinion, we’ve done that — mainly because all the people involved have worked together well on a basis of mutual trust. To give you one example, that’s how Julia Graf and I cooperated — Julia as the development team’s contact person for mechatronics, and I as the person responsible for overall project coordination. I couldn’t possibly explain all 60 of the innovations in the new Actros within the space available here, but I do want to tell you briefly about a few of the highlights.
Your faithful copilot: the new HMI
All of us know how challenging and comprehensive a truck driver’ job really is. That’s why the driver cockpit in the new Actros has two interactive displays and a new operating concept. It’s more intuitive and takes more of the burden off the driver than ever before. The HMI functions reveal their outstanding capabilities when the driver uses the assistance systems, for example.
The driver sees the vehicle driving ahead of the truck as well as the entire route up ahead on the screen. He knows intuitively why the assistance systems are reacting as they are and how to operate them. That creates trust and reduces stress.
It makes me especially proud to see the results of these functions. Julia and her colleagues in the mechatronics development unit have really done a super job. I believe that the new HMI, along with the MirrorCam and Active Drive Assist, is one of the biggest revolutions in the area of truck development.
The new Actros — better connected than ever before
The connectivity and digitalization of the vehicle was another central area that I worked on during the entire duration of the project. The new Actros is now the best-connected truck of all time:
Through the MB truck app portal the Actros can be equipped with apps that help the driver carry out his transportation assignment. The portal offers apps that we’ve developed ourselves at Mercedes as well as apps from external developers. For example, there are apps that help the driver search for a parking space and comply with the rules regarding driving time.
In addition, we’ve completely integrated the Fleetboard fleet management services into the vehicle. Previously an additional device was needed. Of course Mercedes-Benz Uptime is also integrated into the truck, and it has even been expanded to include monitoring of the components of the attached trailer that are relevant to driving.
A look at the future — the MirrorCam
When you’re looking at the truck’s exterior, you probably couldn’t guess at first glance that we’ve made so many changes in the interior. Nonetheless, in addition to the new arrangement of the lights there’s an especially striking detail: The outside mirrors have been replaced with the MirrorCam outside-mirror camera. This is probably the most futuristic of all the innovations that are part of the new Actros. You won’t find it anywhere else.
Instead of the outside mirrors, all we see on the exterior of the new Actros are two small camera arms pointing toward the back of the truck. Two displays located on the A-pillars show the driver the images captured by the cameras.
In my opinion, the technology of the system is extremely impressive. It was especially interesting to support the development process of the MirrorCam, because it faced the developers with a challenge that had never existed before. But all of the hard work has been rewarded. The MirrorCam supports the driver in ways that a normal mirror could never do. Let me give you a couple of examples:
- The all-round view, especially the view out of the side windows, has been significantly improved. After all, there’s no longer a big mirror blocking the view.
- When the driver is turning, the image shown by the display on the inside of the curve turns with the vehicle.
- Driving backward and maneuvering into a parking space have been made easier by means of a special display image with a bigger wide-angle area.
- Numerous guidelines and help settings are shown. As soon as the driver activates the turn signal, the displays show him the optimal entry range. In addition, distance lines show the location of the traffic behind the truck, and a manual setting can be used to mark the end of the Trailer.
- The warning signal of the Turning Assistant is shown, conspicuously flashing, on the displays.
The model also gets plus points for safety and vehicle handling. Because the large outside mirror has been eliminated, the MirrorCam is also a real improvement in terms of aerodynamics and especially in terms of fuel consumption.
The Proximity Control Assist and stop-and-go functions have been combined
A further spectacular highlight is Active Drive Assist (ADA). ADA brings partially automated driving into series production — a milestone that nobody was really expecting four years ago. It does a great deal to relieve the burden on the driver.
How does it do that? Active Drive Assist is based on the tried and tested Proximity Control Assist, which has stop-and-go functions, and on Lane Keeping Assist. The new dimension is the fact that ADA also actively helps the driver keep the truck in its lane.
Within the system limits it uses radar and cameras to autonomously control the truck and keep it within its lane. Although the driver is still responsible for reacting to changes in the traffic situation, the system noticeably relieves him of some of the work and makes an important contribution to increasing road safety.
Fuel conservation 2.0
It’s impressive to see how the various safety and assistance systems of the new Actros work hand in hand and support one another. For example, Active Drive Assist cooperates optimally with our Predictive Powertrain Control system, which we have once again improved. This intelligent cruise control system processes topographical information along the route and adapts the truck’s speed, braking, and acceleration accordingly.
Our drivers are already familiar with these services for highway driving. We have optimized them once again, and in addition, the system can now also be used for overland driving and for more different types of vehicles. These improvements also have significant effects on fuel consumption.
In view of so many technical innovations and enhancements, it’s no wonder that the time until the world premiere has passed much faster than many of us would have liked. But suddenly it’s already September 5, and I’m standing on Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. To be precise, I’m standing in front of the impressive Marlene Dietrich Theater, where the great unveiling ceremony of our new star will take place. I can already see from afar our truck standing on the square in front of the theater, well-camouflaged and protected from the curious gazes of passers-by.
And now it’s time. The curtain rises — it’s the moment that I and the entire project team have been working for. It’s a wonderful feeling to know I’ve intensely supported the new Actros from its beginnings until today, and now to see this revolutionary truck standing before me.
Together with all of my colleagues, I’m absolutely convinced by the new Actros and enthusiastic about it. And now we’re glad that the general public and our customers can finally get to know our new Actros too. I’m looking forward to hearing your feedback!