Daimler Buses unveiled its ground-breaking ‘Future Bus’ vehicle in Amsterdam. Doug Jack reports

 

daimler_futureThe ‘Future Bus’ is based on a standard Mercedes-Benz Citaro structure

 

Daimler Buses this week launched what is believed to be the world’s first full size semi-autonomous city bus. The ‘Future Bus’ premiere was held in Amsterdam, on a 20km route running between Schiphol Airport and the city of Haarlem.

The concept vehicle features a standard Citaro structure which has been heavily modified and fitted with all the necessary equipment for autonomous driving. The German manufacturer hailed the vehicle as “a milestone, both in the history of the bus and on the way to autonomous and accident-free driving”.

The designers said that they wanted a clean break with conventional city bus design. They wanted passengers to make the bus their preferred choice of travel and to enjoy the journey experience.

The vehicle features a layout with two double width doors in the centre of the vehicle, with the designers claiming that this optimises passenger flow. Bearing in mind that the vehicle was left hand drive, passengers could turn right to a forward area almost alongside the driver or turn left towards the rear lounge type arrangement with seats facing each other and across the rear bulkhead. Opposite the doors were more side-facing seats, with a large area for standing passengers making relatively short journeys.

The layout was clearly based on the continental practice of having quite large areas for standing passengers. It is questionable whether British customers will accept so many side-facing seats. There was also a distinct lack of hand rails and stanchions. However, the whole idea of a concept vehicle is to gain feedback that can be used in future production models.

The autonomous ‘CityPilot’ capability of the bus was impressive. Daimler Buses has been able to collaborate with car and truck colleagues to share their technology. The vehicle relies on a series of cameras and radar systems plus GPS to position itself very accurately and to be fully aware of surrounding vehicles and any potential obstructions.

The busway was fully segregated from other traffic, except for intersections. It was served by a number of stations that had platforms level with the floor of the large fleet of Citaro articulated buses that ran every two to three minutes. The autonomous bus was able to recognise traffic lights and communicate with them. It approached bus stops automatically, parking within 10cm of the platform, making it very easy for passengers to get on and off.

The driver sat in a conventional compartment, but only held the wheel when passing a bus travelling in the opposite direction. That was a local legal requirement. Otherwise he was hands off and foot free.

Acceleration and braking were smooth, with Daimler claiming that the autonomous system will lead to further improvements in fuel consumption. It will also improve the working conditions for drivers and their health. On the demonstration run, the bus was easily able to reach its top speed of 70kph, and achieve high average point-to-point journey times.

Mercedes-Benz is developing a new city bus platform that will be capable of taking diesel, CNG, hybrid and fuel cell drive systems, due for launch around 2018/19. The autonomous driving system will be further tested and refined, but should be available as a regular production option by 2020.

 

About the author: Doug Jack is the sole director of Transport Resources International Limited. Having graduated from Edinburgh University with a degree in Scots Law he has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for his entire career

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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