The CityPilot autonomous bus technology of Mercedes-Benz, used by the company's Future Bus vehicles, made a landmark trip in the Netherlands that signals the next step toward the implementation of self-driving vehicles in public transportation.
The CityPilot technology is based on the Highway Pilot system of Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler, which is used for self-driving trucks. The platform was adapted to take into account the specific requirements for a city bus to operate, with radar, GPS and a dozen cameras built into the Future Bus to detect obstacles, pedestrians and traffic signals.
According to the automobile manufacturer, the Future Bus powered by CityPilot is capable of reaching top speeds of 43 miles per hour or about 70 kilometers per hour, on the open road, and is able to recognize objects and people. The bus is also capable of making precise stops at pick-up locations, opening and closing its door before moving automatically.
A Future Bus was able to successfully follow a Bus Rapid Transit route with a distance of 12 miles, or 20 kilometers from the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam to the town of Haarlem. The trip saw the self-driving bus take tight turns while navigating intersections and making way for pedestrians, with no need for a human to maneuver the bus.
The bus, however, was not fully autonomous, as according to regulations, a driver is needed to be behind the wheel of the vehicle in case of an emergency. The driver is also required to take control, simply by placing their feet on a pedal or grabbing the steering wheel, whenever a non-autonomous bus drives along another lane.
The Future Bus, however, was very much capable of most of the driving actions by itself, as it stayed centered on the road and was able to deal with obstructions such as bumps and tunnels.
The Future Bus, unlike other self-driving vehicles, is connected to the city network, which allows it to directly communicate with infrastructures — such as traffic lights — for a smoother ride. The potholes and road damages that are detected by the vehicle's cameras will be stored in the database of the Future Bus so that it can avoid them in the next trip, with the information also shared to the city, so that the proper repairs can be initiated.
The vehicle is not the first self-driving bus that has hit the public roads, for example, the IBM Watson-powered, self-driving, 3D-printed Olli bus was launched in June for trial runs in Washington D.C.