Innovation

Could the autonomous Mercedes Future Bus lead to driverless public transportation?

Mercedes-Benz recently unveiled its Future Bus, a semi-automated city bus that has already traveled through the streets of Amsterdam.

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Image: Daimler AG

On Tuesday, Mercedes-Benz revealed its Future Bus, a semi-automated city bus that it says is safer, more comfortable, and more efficient than traditional buses. The bus runs on a platform known as CityPilot, and it recently made its maiden voyage on a 20 km track through Amsterdam.

According to German automaker Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, the tech behind the Future Bus and CityPilot is based on the autonomous Mercedes-Benz Actros truck that debuted a couple years back, but with added features and functionality. An official blog post announcing the Future Bus explained that CityPilot can recognize and navigate traffic lights and perform many functions needed to drive in the city. The bus can reach speeds of 70 km/h on open roads.

"It can also recognise obstacles, especially pedestrians on the road, and brake autonomously. It approaches bus stops automatically, where it opens and closes its doors. And not least, it is able to drive through tunnels," the post said.

futurebus2.jpg
Another look at the Future Bus.
Image: Daimler AG

The bus is roughly 12 meters long and its design is based on the Mercedes-Benz Citaro bus model. It leverages "just under a dozen cameras" along with GPS and both short and long-range radar systems to scan its surroundings. Collecting and properly using the data this generates allows the bus to position itself "within centimetres."

SEE: IBM Watson jumps into autonomous vehicles with driverless shuttle Olli

It's important to note that the Future Bus is not fully autonomous, as there is still a driver on board. While Daimler AG claims the the driver doesn't need to touch the brake or accelerator, it does note that certain traffic regulations may still require a human taking the wheel, noting that "the driver is able to intervene at any time and immediately take control if required."

Still, it could potentially improve the life of the driver by lessening his or her workload, and Daimler AG said that its driving style is more comfortable for passengers and could also lower fuel use and emissions, as well as wear and tear on the vehicle.

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The Future Bus has wireless charging surfaces.
Image: Daimler AG

The bus's design is futuristic as well. Its "harmonious lines and asymmetrical contours" are derived from architecture found in major cities, and its body lights look like something out of a Tron film when they are lit up against the night.

The interior is divided into three separate areas that are intended to be used by different riders, depending on the duration of their specific rides. Large screens display ride information and entertainment as well. Additionally, a video showcasing the technology seemed to indicate that the interior of the bus had surfaces with embedded wireless charging capabilities.

What do you think?

Are autonomous vehicles the future of public transportation? Why or why not? Tell us your opinion in the comments.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Mercedes-Benz launched the Future Bus, a semi-automated city bus that recently completed its first journey through Amsterdam.
  2. The Future Bus uses cameras, GPS, radar systems, and data fusion to properly navigate its surroundings and avoid obstacles.
  3. The bus isn't fully autonomous because it still requires a human driver, but it could be a strong first step toward driverless public transportation.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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