Mercedes-Benz builds self-driving Future Bus with CityPilot

  • Latest development in autonomous driving for commercial vehicles
  • Can drive itself for up to 12 miles, obeys traffic lights, spots pedestrians
  • Reduces driver fatigue, points to future for self-driving vans

We don’t usually cover buses here at Parkers Vans, but Mercedes-Benz has announced it will be bringing something rather interesting to the September 2016 IAA Commercial Vehicle Show in Germany. It’s called the Future Bus, and using a new CityPilot function it’s apparently capable of driving itself for up to 20km – that’s over 12 miles.

What has this got to do with vans?

"Autonomous driving" technology like this is designed to increase safety and reduce driver fatigue, and Mercedes is already showing how it can be used across a range of commercial vehicles  the Future Bus follows on from a Mercedes-Benz Actros truck concept first shown in 2014, which used a similar Highway Pilot system to (partially) self-drive on the motorway.

It’s not too much of a leap to imagine Mercedes is also working on similar high-tech solutions for vans. Especially since the Future Bus is designed to cope with much more complicated town centre driving situations, where the traffic includes pedestrians and cyclists as well as vehicles, and comes from lots of different directions – motorways are simple by comparison, since the traffic is (usually) all going the same way.

How does the Future Bus work?

Mercedes calls the Future Bus “semi-automated,” but that seems to be underselling it a bit as it’s already been tested on a 12-mile route from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport to the town of Haarlem.

With CityPilot switched on, it can apparently complete the trip without the driver touching the accelerator or brake, and they only need to touch the steering wheel when there’s oncoming traffic (currently a legal requirement); otherwise the Future Bus simply steers itself, negotiating traffic lights, tight corners and dark tunnels, travelling up to 44mph, and halting automatically at bus stops along the way.

It uses nearly a dozen cameras combined with no fewer than five radar systems and GPS to do all this, constantly comparing what it’s “seeing” at that moment with images stored in its memory. The gathered info is brought together in a process Mercedes calls “data fusion” to create a complete picture of Future Bus’s surroundings.

Sounds like it must be packed with computers

It probably is, but Mercedes has still made room for a bunch of designer seating, three different passenger zones for different length of travel, a city-scape influenced design and park-like detailing. Hence the grab handles look like branches and the ceiling is supposed to resemble a leaf canopy.

Despite the radical interior and unusually proportioned exterior with central passenger doors, the 12m-long Future Bus is based on Mercedes’ existing Citaro. No word yet on when the CityPilot tech is likely to go into production, but you can certainly expect to see similar experimental concepts in the van world very soon.

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