On a recent trip to Europe, Diesel News’ US correspondent, Steve Sturgess, got a first look at the latest version of the Mercedes Benz Actros, a truck he regards as a technological tour de force.
The introduction of the latest iteration of the Actros sees major upgrades under the skin and in the cab, with the accents all on the digital connectivity of the truck, described by Stefan Buchner, Global Head of Mercedes-Benz Trucks, as a digital animal, a smartphone on wheels. In 2014, Daimler launched the Future Truck 2025, he said. But that futuristic truck is actually here, now, with many of the features developed for the autonomous truck actually in production and on the new Actros.
Features include active steering assist and recognition by the active braking of pedestrians for the first time, an electronic parking brake, and switches replaced by two touch-screen monitors. The new truck is very driver-centric and designed to relieve the stress of driving a big truck.
Perhaps the most significant is the first mirror cam rear view system to go into series production. This has been made possible by a rewrite of the European rear-view regulations which, since mid 2016 has allowed manufacturers to obtain type approval for mirrorless, camera-operated rear views displayed on mirror-like monitors mounted inside the cab on the A-pillars.
These are 15 inches tall and slim and, based on experience with a similar setup on Freightliner’s autonomous trucks, take a little getting used to, but open up a better three-quarter forward view that is normally obstructed by the external mirrors. Also, the electronics offer wide angle views and an altogether safer driving experience. The use of cameras in a sleek housing that looked just like the Mekra setup I found the following day at the IAA press day reduces the aerodynamic drag on the cab, contributing to the 3 to 6 per cent fuel economy improvement claimed for the latest Actros.
We were not given an opportunity to drive the new Actros but I made sure I got a ride in a demonstration unit and I was absolutely amazed at the updated cabover. The mirror setup works and the software has improved since my earlier experience with the technology.
Early on, the driver demonstrated the selection process on the two screens, tapping the on-screen icons to select the adaptive cruise control and many truck systems. He also showed how the driver-assist works by autonomously guiding the truck in the lane. The requirement here is that the driver must have their hands touching the steering wheel to prove he or she is alert and ready to take control if necessary. This was impressive and easy-to-use – a smooth, comfortable aid to take some of the stress out of driving.
But the stand-out thing for me was how quiet it was in the cab. As well as leaving the sound behind the cab instead of directly ahead as it is in a conventional, the cab is exceptionally well-insulated. But the real contributor is the incredible down-speeding from the latest engine controls. I couldn’t see the tachometer from the passenger seat as these are wide cabs, but managed to communicate with the driver who told me that at cruise the engine is turning only 800 rpm. On an upshift, the rpms drop to 750, little more than idle and when it is working hard you hear the individual power strokes. It’s like those old big engine race-cars where you get a firing at every lamp-post.