Screens and Mirrors

In Tests, Mercedes-Benz, April 20228 MinutesBy Gavin MyersMay 26, 2022

It’s been roughly three years since Mercedes-Benz Trucks debuted its MirrorCam system on the Actros — the first series-production truck to feature the technology. Local introduction followed towards the end of 2019, and the trucks entered sale in 2020. Now, two or so years later, the system will have had ample opportunity to prove itself in various applications… or not. Let’s find out.

Since Mercedes-Benz launched MirrorCam locally in 2019, we’ve had many discussions on how to cover it off. Without a doubt, it’s one of the biggest moves in the history of truck cab design. On that basis, does covering one operator’s experience say anything about the concept’s application in the wider industry? We thought not. We therefore decided to ask six different operators, covering Nightcaps in the south to Auckland in the north, what they thought of MirrorCam. Good grief, we even went to Karamea and had a yarn with the Lowe family, owners of the area’s first new truck in three decades.

Gav and Dave split the writing, adding breadth and body to the interpretation. We hope you enjoy a cover feature that’s a little different.

The premise for this cover feature was based on one simple question: When does the implementation of technology go too far? More specifically in this instance: Is replacing the traditional, simple wing mirror with cameras and screens simply implementing technology for the sake of it?

And so, we thought, there could be no better way to find out than to get into as many Mercedes-Benz Actros and Arocs models in as wide and varied a range of applications as we could fathom. Then we could hear it from those who use MirrorCam every day – the drivers and operators.

In the couple of years since Mercedes-Benz debuted MirrorCam, other European OEMs have developed their own versions of the system. Specifically, MAN introduced OptiView on its new Truck Generation, and DAF introduced the DAF Digital Camera system on its new XF and XG+. However, neither is yet available to New Zealand buyers – it’ll be interesting to line up the various systems when they are. For now, though, the spotlight is on MirrorCam and how it’s working for Kiwis.

We chat to Auckland-based Reliance Transport which gives us an idea of how the system works in container cartage, with its Arocs 3246 8×4 with quad steering swinglift. Then, Carr & Haslam takes us for a drive in one of its two Arocs 3246 8×4 truck and two-axle trailer car-transporter combinations, and we talk to Hamilton-based Perry Metals, which runs an Actros 2653 6×4 with a tri-axle flat-deck semi.

From there, we head off the beaten path with Taranaki logger Kevin Hartley, in his Arocs 3263 8×4, and then truly off-road with Nightcaps-based Transport Services Ltd, which runs a MirrorCam-equipped 1840 4×2 spreader. Finally, still in the south, we explore the system in the varied world of civil and rural contracting haulage with Karamea-based operator SM Lowe Contracting and its Arocs 2646 6×4.

What makes a MirrorCam?

Mercedes-Benz touts the MirrorCam as ‘a digital rearview mirror that improves allround visibility and facilitates manoeuvring and cornering’. Its core components consist of two streamlined arms mounted on the roof frame, which house the cameras. Inside, rigidly mounted to the cab’s A-pillars, are two 15.2” portrait-oriented displays with a resolution of 720×1920 pixels – the top two-thirds of which show the main mirror view and the lower third the wide angle. Controls are found as usual in the door module, as well as in the infotainment system. There are also buttons on the passenger side and by the bed to activate the MirrorCam when the truck is switched off.

According to Mercedes- Benz, the system has many advantages, the first of which is a claimed 1.5% reduction in fuel use due to the elimination of wind resistance caused by traditional mirror housings. On a more practical basis, the claim is enhanced view, both ahead and behind. Once again, the lack of a physical mirror housing alongside the cab means a wider view through the side windows. Of course, the screens mounted to the A-pillars cause some obstruction – but we’ll find out if that affects visibility later on.

There’s no point in replacing something as fit-for-purpose as a traditional mirror if the replacement isn’t at least as adept. Mercedes-Benz’s ability to programme various functions into the MirrorCam’s operation should ensure this.

When reversing and cornering with a semitrailer, for example, the display changes to a special view for manoeuvring – showing an altered perspective, the display on the inside of the vehicle’s path swivels to widen the view and mitigate the obstruction caused by the articulation of the trailer. Mercedes-Benz says this is supposed to make reversing and cornering easier by always keeping the rear of the trailer in view.

In normal driving, calibrated distance lines help the driver more accurately gauge how far behind following vehicles are, with the location of the truck’s rearmost extreme also indicated. When overtaking, changing lanes and turning, MirrorCam displays red, orange and yellow markings to indicate whether it’s safe to move.

Finally, the system is supposed to be adept at dealing with changing light and weather conditions. The high mounting position and waterrepellent coating are supposed to limit exposure to dirt, while the system is automatically heated when temperatures fall below 15°C. The brightness can be adjusted separately for the driver and passenger sides. The system is meant to continuously adapt to the changing light conditions.

MirrorCam can be integrated with Sideguard Assist (if equipped), a warning system that alerts the driver to dangerous left-turn situations. Like systems found in many passenger vehicles, Sideguard Assist gives a visual (and acoustic) warning if there is a risk of collision with a stationary or moving object the driver may have overlooked. The system does this by displaying a yellow triangle in the passenger-side MirrorCam screen, then a red triangle.

And so, with all that in mind, let’s find out how MirrorCam really performs…

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