This is the Mercedes Future Bus, a concept that its maker claims is safer, more ecologically friendly and more comfortable than any other bus, and which it says is a “milestone” on the path to fully autonomous buses operating on roads.
The bus is designed to operate on what Mercedes is calling Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lanes, and uses 10 cameras that combine long and short-distance radar to plot a route while networking with traffic light systems to ensure it travels at optimum speeds at all times to avoid stopping unnecessarily, wasting fuel and causing discomfort, while always staying in lane and tracking surrounding traffic up to 200 metres ahead.
Using a system developed on Actros trucks - called Highway Pilot in that usage, but City Pilot on the bus - the bus is able to drive semi-autonomously, recognising traffic light colours and pedestrians and stopping at bus stops automatically with “centimetric precision”.
Mercedes says buses are the perfect means of transport for trailing autonomous technology as they always operate on the same routes, to a set timetable, making it easier to map the environment in which they operate. It highlights the fact that it can programme the autonomous functions to recognise and operate in tunnels or at complicated road junctions as a benefit to making the system simpler than on a car, for instance, because the route data is fixed and the cameras can therefore compare it to pre-loaded images of the surroundings.
Although a driver is still required to be at the wheel by law at present, Mercedes says the systems - pioneered on the Mercedes S-Class three years ago - are more precise “than a driver could ever hope to achieve manually in day-to-day operation”. The level of autonomy is set at level two of five, meaning the bus has a lane-keeping function, longitudinal guidance and assisted acceleration and braking.
The Future Bus has already been tested in prototype form in closed areas and ran on a public road for the first time on a 30-minute route between Amsterdam and Haarlem recently. It will now undergo trials on public roads in Stuttgart after the local government there passed new regulations to allow semi-autonomous tests.