The future of autonomous mobility will have many faces, one of them certainly being public transport that includes buses with no driver. At least that's how it seems, judging by the specs of the autonomous Mercedes-Benz Future Bus, just starting its first public test drives in the Netherlands.
Daimler planners realize that the future mobility can't be based on private transportation only, so they are exploring other alternatives, focusing their development strategies on public transport as well. One of such alternatives is a city buss that takes away the responsibility of driving the bus from the driver (at least partly) and substitutes it with various autonomous solutions.
The basics for Mercedes-Benz Future Bus is the autonomous system, one that Daimler already presented two years ago with its Future Truck. During the lest couple of years, the technology was being constantly improved until they were finally able to transfer its use from relatively predictable highway driving conditions to the somehow more chaotic urban landscape.
Armed with cameras, radars and connectivity solutions, the Future Bus is able to recognize and communicate with traffic lights, it can sense obstacles of any kind, including pedestrians and cyclists, and it can also make an emergency stop, if necessary. It can also drive through tunels and, which of course is very important for the public bus, it can recognize bus stops and use them to meet its passangers.
In the center of the CityPilot system there are two video cameras (one fully functioning, while the other one is kept on stand-by as a reserve), which supervise driving on traffic lanes. They, naturally, do not function all on their own - they are being assisted by a wide array of other sensors and helpful features: video cameras substituting reverse mirrors, four short range radars with the reach from half to ten meters, long range radars that sense surroundings of up to 200 meters, 11 video cameras,a GPS system and the operation system, of course.
Lots of care was also put in the futuristic design of the bus, especially of the minimalistic interior, which follows the example of civic parks and markets. The two-tone ceiling simulates treetops and how they throw shadows on the passengers, which are divided in three parts, according to preferences and driving time. There's also a plethora of monitors to show them the latest information - whether they need it or not.
Whatabout practical use of such a bus? It is already driving on a 20 km long road stretch between Amsterdam airport Schiphol and Haarlem city centre. The drive takes about thirty minutes in total, facing some obstacles on the road, such as 22 traffic lights, eleven bus stops, three tunels and some 70 km/h speed limits. What about the driver? He is still supposed to be there, his presence is required, however his role is to monitor the drive rather than to drive the bus.