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Has Mercedes just made a bus worth travelling on?
A cabin inspired by parks, no need to touch the brakes… here’s how the Germans see future public transport
We don’t often feature buses on TopGear.com, because besides being cumbersome, smelly, slow and dull, there’s enough going on in the car world to keep us entertained. But when Mercedes says it has invented an autonomous bus than can interact with its environment in ways besides causing gridlock misery and giving everyone within half a mile asthma, that has to be worth another look.
Called, imaginatively, the Mercedes Future Bus, the er, future Bus has a part-autonomous mode called City Pilot, deploying technology Mercedes first used on its self-driving Actros truck a few years back. There, the system was designed to look after a lorry sat on a motorway cruise. This time, ten cameras scan the area around the bus, looking out for other vehicles, pedestrians, street furniture and watching traffic lights and roadworks.
This observation network is fed into a data pool with short and long-range radar (yes, we’re still talking about a bus, not a fighter jet), and super-accurate GPS which pinpoints the Future Bus’s location to within a few centimetres.
Mercedes claims the Future Bus has already demonstrated an ability to self-drive on a 20km urban test route, automatically recognising bus stops, when to open and close its doors, and maintaining GPS signal when in a tunnel. Sounds like a small thing, but how often has your sat-nav or phone gone dead because you went into an underpass?
Because we’re talking semi-autonomous tech here, the CityPilot is supposed to act as a driver aid, in particular, confusing junctions or congested sections, rather than an excuse for your ticket collector to take a snooze, or in fact have their entire job consigned to history. Even so, it sounds like the passengers definitely get the better deal here. Mercedes says it’s been inspired by verdant green parks…
Really, it’s hit on the idea of dividing the Future Bus’s interior into three zones, designed for different lengths of stay on board. Grab handles are supposed to ape tree branches, with the ceiling hinting at sunlight poking through a canopy of leaves. If that’s a bit Alice in Wonderland for you, big screens beam driver-selected info to the passengers.
Looks-wise, we’re big fans of the Tron-spec blue lighting, but come on Mercedes – was white really the most practical interior colour for a vehicle designed to carry children and the inebriated?
Regardless, here’s what happens when a luxury car giant tries to make bus travel bearable. Question is, are the undoubtedly impressive innovations of the Future Bus enough to convert you?