Mercedes-Benz’s Future Bus with CityPilot has started operating in a semi-automated fashion on public roads in the Netherlands, teasing a future in which buses and similar public transportation rely on autonomous technology to drive around. In this case, the bus has navigated across a Bus Rapid Transit route from the Netherlands’ Airport Line 300 ‘Schalkwijk Centrum’ bus stop into the city of Haarlem.
The bus isn’t fully autonomous at this time, as it requires a driver to be in place and the driver to perform certain actions before the bus can operate. When the driver isn’t in control of the bus, it is operated by Mercedes-Benz’ CityPilot. If the driver places their feet on either pedal or takes the steering wheel, the CityPilot will switch off and the driver will get control of the vehicle.
The bus uses traffic lights to determine when it is time to drive and when it needs to stop. Mercedes-Benz says the Future Bus “always drives defensively in the interests of its occupants.” A combination of hardware, including GPS, cameras, and radar enable the bus to operate on its own in traffic; it can operate at speeds up to 70km/h on its own, with the max speed being pre-programmed.
Per regulations, the driver takes over the wheel if another non-autonomous bus drives by in the other lane, but otherwise the bus is able to handle most of its driving actions on its own, staying centered in the lane and dealing with things like a tunnels, bumps, and such.
This isn’t the first autonomous bus we’ve seen hit public roads. Last month, for example, the IBM Watson-powered bus Olli went live in Washington DC, and other companies have been working to make their own futuristic methods of public transportation.