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Mercedes-Benz Future Bus: Autonomous in the fast lane

Torsten Seibt
Mercedes-Benz Future Bus
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B we have to travel, especially with a public bus usually the coolness factor of a Costa Cordalis concert. You survive it, but you are not really eager to repeat it. With the new Mercedes-Benz Future Bus, however, things look a little different. The technology carrier with which Mercedes celebrated its world premiere in Amsterdam is intended to represent the not-so-distant future in local public transport.

Autonomous driving in the bus

The Mercedes-Benz Future Bus is based on the current generation of the Citaro (up to 394 hp), Mercedes has had this series since 1997, the second generation came in 2011/12. The Mercedes-Benz Future Bus uses the 12-meter version of the Citaro, but the design has been hugely pepped up. A huge front window with a sheet of Elvis Tolle, roof steps at the front and rear, which can be followed from the side windows.

Inside: lounge character with casual plastic sofas, light games and large monitors - an Apple could do that too -Store.

The real highlight of the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus, however, is its ability to drive autonomously. And that in regular passenger service, i.e. also with arrival at individual stops, boarding and alighting. The Mercedes-Benz Future Bus has now demonstrated this ability for the first time in Amsterdam. There is the longest so-called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route in Western Europe, which connects Schiphol International Airport with the city of Amsterdam over a length of 38 kilometers.

Mercedes-Benz Future Bus

Such BRT routes are seen by traffic experts as a possible solution for the metropolitan traffic of the future; with their separate lanes they combine the speed advantages of rail traffic with the lower costs of buses. For the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus, its ability to drive up to 20 kilometers completely autonomously is still a challenge. Ten camera systems scan the traffic around the vehicle, plus a long-range radar with a range of 200 meters on board.

Four short-range radar sensors, lane cameras, and rearview mirror cameras keep an eye on every corner around the bus. Accelerated, braked and steered completely automatically. The Mercedes-Benz Future Bus drives up to stops with centimeter precision and communicates with traffic lights on the route.

More driving comfort and safety

Mercedes also sees autonomous drive systemsa convenience advantage, the bus drives 'more anticipatory' and less jerk thanks to its intelligent control than a human pilot would allow. The Mercedes-Benz Future Bus can travel at speeds of up to 70 km /h. The driver acts as a watchdog: if there is oncoming traffic, he has to take over the steering wheel, otherwise he must always be ready to intervene.

In addition to the GPS and the lane cameras, four other cameras are used to determine the position with centimeter precision Compare pictures. In this way, the bus can be controlled with an accuracy of eight centimeters, even in tunnels where no GPS connection is possible. According to Mercedes, the Future Bus can be maneuvered more precisely with it than by hand.

How the Future Bus drives

To prove this, we were allowed to get on and ride with us. About 20 kilometers out of the city towards the airport. The Mercedes Future Bus drives manually to the BRT bus stop and makes it clear what the computer can do better: The bus is around 30 centimeters away from the boarding area.

The Amsterdam BRT route does It is clear from the first few meters where the advantage of the concept lies. It works as easily as a subway, with a similar speed (at peak times a bus comes every five minutes), but in the fresh air and not on the musty basement. Like platforms, the boarding areas are raised to demarcate the lane and make boarding easier.

Chic interior

The interior is in no way reminiscent of the usual public buses with vandal-proof plastic chairs and a mix of smells wet dog and old newspaper. The entry is very easy via two double doors in the middle of the bus, directly behind is the terminal for buying tickets - even if we drive illegally this time. Opposite the two large information screens, currently stocked with pictures and videos about the bus, news and short films could also be shown here.

Shortly after leaving, the driver presses the switch so that the computer takes over. The interior ambient lighting switches from creamy white to blue, signaling the autonomous mode. And you notice: nothing. If you disregard the image of the driver, which at first seems a bit unsettling, with his arms relaxed on the armrests, there is no noticeable difference to a normal bus journey. At most, that it runs very smoothly and without hasty braking or acceleration maneuvers, as with a good and rested driver.

Daimler employees as a voluntary crash test dummy

At a bus stop, a Daimler employee walks in front of the bus shortly after departure, which brakes immediately to a standstill. The developers are sure of what they are doing: “It works, the colleague has done it several times and we only have the one who isvolunteered ”.

There were previously slight doubts about the capacity of the Future Bus, the airy designer furniture only offers around 15 seats. But in the end a good 30 passengers fit in, those with standing room are happy about the smooth driving style of the computer.

The fact that driving with the vision of the future feels so 'normal' is also due to the fact that Mercedes deliberately used a conventional diesel Citaro used as a base. A bus with a battery-electric drive is also conceivable, of course, and a corresponding series-ready model is to be presented in the next two years.

Amazingly problem-free ride

The first test drive is absolutely amazing. The Future Bus covers the route without any abnormalities, stops at the stops, opens and closes the doors, and transmits its wish to pass through the traffic lights. Impressive and absolutely trustworthy, the driver does not have to intervene once. The route leads through tight curves, tunnels, underpasses and several traffic light crossings, so by no means trivial.

However, it must be clearly restricted: The separate BRT lanes on which the bus with its countless sensors and cameras is even based on the pattern on the road surface, are ideal for this use and are comparatively easy to master. There is still a long way to go before such a bus can assert itself in normal, flowing city traffic amid chaotic cyclists and scooter drivers, lane-changing cars in traffic jams, sudden construction sites and parcel drivers parked wildly.

After the world premiere in real operation in In the Netherlands, Mercedes will present the Future Bus to the public at the Commercial Vehicle IAA in September.

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