Tom Westphal is driving the new Actros with MirrorCam and Active Drive Assist

Business & Logistics

Good spirit on board.

Tom Westphal, known as “Zottl”, is driving the new Actros for the haulier Wagenstetter from Forsting. He particularly likes the Active Drive Assist, Multimedia Cockpit and MirrorCam features.

Tom Westphal is always on the Brenner motorway. He drives over the Brenner Pass almost every week, delivering cargo to northern Italy and then reloading his truck. In the past, he also drove to southern Europe. Today, however, it’s all about covering high mileage. In Tom’s case, between Upper Bavaria, Tyrol and northern Italy. Even though his trucker experiences may not be as romantic as they used to be and he is not exploring the “great wide world”, the 51-year-old is happy with this arrangement. He now has more time for his family at the weekends.

Westphal drives for the haulier Wagenstetter from Forsting, 50 kilometres east of Munich. Although he almost always drives the same route, he has recently been enjoying something special. Tom is one of a small number of truck drivers who puts the new Actros to an endurance test in his regular working day. 

“Something like the new Multimedia Cockpit is completely new in trucks, and the new MirrorCam is simply amazing.”

– Tom Westphal, driver for the haulier Nikolaus Wagenstetter

Before the market launch, Mercedes-Benz Trucks asked Tom’s boss, Nikolaus Wagenstetter, if he would be interested in taking part in these tests. The consistency of the routes coupled with the high mileage make Wagenstetter an interesting case study for Mercedes-Benz engineers. Rolf Knehr from the vehicle testing department constantly asks Tom how he is using the new systems.

The new Active Drive Assist was the focus of Tom’s tests. The system represents a milestone in truck construction. It enables partially automated driving at any speed – for the first time in a series-produced truck. Active Drive Assist helps the driver with longitudinal and lateral control of their truck. The system can independently brake and accelerate the truck and keep it in lane by means of active steering movements.

Tom uses Active Drive Assist on federal roads and on his motorway drives. “The system is a great help. In the case of heavy traffic, Active Drive Assist helps to ensure the correct distance to the vehicle in front without giving up unnecessary space. I still need to keep an eye on everything, but after nine hours using Active Drive Assist, I’m not as exhausted as I used to be without it.”

This is how Active Drive Assist is used: once Tom enables cruise control and sets a particular speed, Active Drive Assist is activated. Now, the system camera needs to detect lane markings on both sides of the road. Active Drive Assist then begins to actively support Tom with longitudinal and lateral control of the truck. Tom can see this on the central display of the Multimedia Cockpit by means of a blue steering wheel symbol and blue lane markings.

Tom can set the position of the truck in the lane using the multifunction steering wheel in the Actros. The left control on the steering wheel contains six switches arranged in a circle, which operate features such as cruise control. In the centre, between these switches, are the Touch Control Buttons, which are important for using Active Drive Assist. Depending on the direction in which Tom wishes to move his truck in the lane, he swipes to the left or the right using the Touch Control Buttons and then confirms the request. He can also set the distance to the truck in front. To do this, he swipes up or down.

Once Tom has programmed Active Drive Assist in this way and the truck gets too near the vehicle in front, this is indicated through the stylised view of a vehicle in front on the central display. Active Drive Assist will then brake the truck itself. Once there is enough space, the system will accelerate the truck automatically up to the speed configured in the cruise control.

The system also takes the same active role for lane tracking. If the truck is in danger of leaving its lane, Active Drive Assist steers the vehicle back and keeps it in lane. Another added safety benefit is that if Tom deactivates Active Drive Assist, the active lane tracking remains in operation.

“At the beginning, I had to get used to the system,” Tom explains. “It’s a big change in driving experience, when Active Drive Assist steps in. But you quickly begin to trust it. It’s particularly good for long-distance driving.

“There’s less stress,” says Tom, who is known as “Zottl” to his colleagues because of his long curly hair.

“Something like the new Multimedia Cockpit is completely new in trucks, and the new MirrorCam is simply amazing.” 

The MirrorCam is a huge improvement, not just for aerodynamics, but also for safety and vehicle handling. “I have better all-round visibility as there’s no need for mirrors any more. I also find the distance lines for assessing traffic behind you very helpful.”

Tom’s verdict is clear: “I’ve already told my boss: I don’t want to drive without the MirrorCam any more!”

Photos: Matthias Aletsee
Video: Martin Schneider-Lau