Viewpoints

Meet the autonomous bus that could get people out of their cars

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By Jesse Berst, Smart Cities Council

How would you rate your last bus ride? Was it cramped? Noisy? Slow? As traffic becomes steadily worse, cities will have to try harder than ever to get people out of their cars. Future Bus, a concept city bus from Daimler, aims to make that job very easy.

It’s making news for its semi-autonomous 12-mile drive in Amsterdam. The bus can drive itself, including obeying traffic signals, although a driver needs to be ready to take over in some circumstances.

But it’s also worth noting for its luxurious interior. Three different sections inside are designed for passengers based on the length of their trip. For long-distance riders, there’s a lounge complete with wireless charging. Sound like a bus you would want to ride? There are lots of ways to try to get people out of their cars. Future Bus is a reminder that sometimes the carrot works better than the stick.

The Mercedes-Benz Future Bus made its first semi-automated trip on public roads last month, driving about 12 miles of a bus rapid transit line in Amsterdam. It’s not necessarily an easy course. The route from Schiphol airport has twists, tunnels and traffic lights. For the most part, Future Bus was able to do it itself.

Semi-autonomous
Due to laws, a driver has to be ready to take the wheel in the event of oncoming traffic. But Future Bus is able to drive itself, featuring a variety of technologies to help it avoid obstacles and keep passengers safe. Radar and stereo cameras allow it to detect people, cars and other obstacles on the road and avoid them. It can operate at speeds of up to 70 km/h on its own.

Future Bus also interacts with traffic signals. It can coordinate with the signals ahead to make sure it always has the green light. If it loses its connection, it can still use its cameras to tell if it has the right-of-way or not.

Focus on passenger comfort
The interior of the bus is built to be more like a city park than a city bus. Seating in each of the three sections is in asymmetrical groups, sort of like park benches. The design of the seats themselves are inspired by designer chairs. The passenger compartments are designed to feel open, giving passengers a feeling of space.

Each section is designed to cater to the needs of those particular riders. Up front is a service section. In the middle is an express section, designed for riders on short trips. They’re close to the large double-door and there’s plenty of standing room. In the back is a comfortable lounge for riders who are on the longest trips.

Large display screens allow passengers to follow the progress on the route or even see the view from the driver’s window.

 

Jesse Berst is the chairman of the Smart Cities Council, which helps cities use technology to become more livable, workable and sustainable. Learn about the Council’s second-annual Smart Cities Week, September 27-29 in Washington, D.C., at SmartCitiesWeek.com.

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