The Future Bus: Mercedes launches autonomous bus

The Mercedes-Benz Future Bus with CityPilot is a new autonomous bus offering from the German automaker. Mercedes hopes the innovative transportation solution will enhance the attractiveness of the city bus as a means of transport.

This aspiration above all applies to passengers, but also to drivers and bus operators. The company believes all three groups will benefit from the Mercedes autonomous bus’s revolutionary design and innovative technology.

In a statement, Mercedes said the autonomous bus “becomes one with its environment, both in terms of its exterior and interior design… as it moves along its dedicated line and communicates with its surroundings.”

The Mercedes-Benz Future Bus with CityPilot made its public debut running on part of Europe’s longest BRT route (BRT = Bus Rapid Transit) in the Netherlands. This links Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport with the town of Haarlem. The almost 20 km long route offered a real-world challenge for the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus, as it has numerous bends and passes through tunnels and across junctions with traffic lights.

Autonomous bus thanks to networking – a new dimension

Ten cameras mounted in various systems, long and short-range radar systems, networking with traffic light systems and an automatic braking system – these are the technical features of the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus.

The result is a new dimension in the efficiency of the bus as a means of transport. The bus covers its entire route semi-automatically, without the driver having to operate the accelerator or brake, or even the passenger door controls – an enormous relief in regular service operation.

Strictly speaking, the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus operates at level two of the five defined levels on the way to autonomous driving – semi-automation with lane-keeping function, longitudinal guidance, acceleration and braking by assistance systems.

The roughly twelve meter long solo bus has been loosely based on the popular Mercedes Citaro bus. Mercedes has yet to reveal how it plans to power the buses. The usual Citaro models are powered by diesel or natural gas, but there is also a hydrogen fuel cell-powered version, designated Citaro BZ or O530BZ.

The interior of the Future Bus is open and light. The completely low-floor bus is divided into three areas: The “service” area is at the front near the driver; the “express” area for short journeys with a focus on standing room and quick passenger flow is in the middle. Behind that is a “lounge” area where passengers spend more time. Their smartphones can be charged wirelessly, inductively that is.

The completely redesigned cockpit is an integrated part of the whole space. The driver receives the required information on a large display in an innovative presentation style, and can concentrate fully on his or her core tasks. An electronic ticket system dispenses with the conventional selling and checking of tickets by the driver. The ticket system is an important element of the bus’s connectivity.

Intensive tests have verified safety and practical relevance

The development engineers have intensively tested the CityPilot both in test vehicles based on the Citaro and in the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus, including numerous test journeys on selected routes in closed-off areas. The world premiere in the Netherlands, on Airport Line 300 between Amsterdam and Haarlem, was also preceded by intensive tests.

The Mercedes-Benz CityPilot is not science fiction. The bus is in public operation following an exemption from the state transport authority in Stuttgart according to Section 70 of the German vehicle licensing regulations, based on an expert report by TÜV Rhineland. It is allowed to operate on public roads despite deviating from the normal technical and service specifications.

The CityPilot is another milestone reached by Mercedes-Benz on the road to autonomous driving. The CityPilot is based on the Highway Pilot of the Mercedes-Benz Actros truck, however it exceeds the latter’s capabilities to meet the needs of its specific area of operation. The new functions include: traffic light recognition; pedestrian recognition; centimetric precision when halting at bus stops; and the ability to drive semi-autonomously in tunnels.

Mercedes-Benz looks set to continue the strategy to focus its autonomous bus efforts on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems as it said that they are quick to establish for urban and traffic planners, as well as being inexpensive and flexible. According to the company, there are now about 180 BRT systems on all continents with a total fleet of approximately 40,000 buses, which carry some 30 million passengers every day. Importantly, developing regions such as South America are regarded as a BRT regions due their rapidly growing metropolises increased use of BRT systems.