Mercedes Unveils a Slick Self-Driving Bus to Upgrade Your Commute

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We've seen ideas for self-driving buses and other autonomous public transport before, but nothing as slick as a concept bus that Mercedes-Benz unveiled in Amsterdam today.

Dubbed the "Future Bus," its styling might turn heads, but otherwise it resembles the type of Mercedes-built city buses that are common in Europe and Asia. The tech inside, though, portends a future where commuters can wirelessly charge their smartphones, recline in Ikea-like seating pods and make small talk with their driver while computers do all the driving.

The bus's self-driving tech is based on the Mercedes CityPilot, which the German automaker began testing a few years ago to help long-haul truckers with highway driving. For the Future Bus, CityPilot has been adapted to recognize and communicate with traffic lights. That means the bus knows whether or not the light is green without relying on artificial intelligence processing of camera images.

That's not to say the Future Bus doesn't need cameras and other sensors that have come to define autonomous driving research, however. There are plenty of cameras -- around 12 -- that scan the road and recognize pedestrians, obstacles and bus stops, slowing and opening the doors automatically. Other sensors include a GPS and long- and short-range radars.

In the video, Mercedes tested the Future Bus on a 12-mile course near Amsterdam, which included an airport, dedicated bus lanes, mixed city traffic and a tunnel. Along the way, its wireless charging stations and futuristic seats offered passengers a ride that was anything but the crowded, slow and uncomfortable experience many Americans imagine when they think of city buses.

While completely autonomous private vehicles face an uncertain future, the tech that powers Mercedes's bus is much closer to reality, even in the US. Small driverless buses made by the start-up Local Motion are already roaming the streets of Washington, D.C. And two cities in California are working on autonomous, on-demand bus systems that would ferry people short distances, such as from their homes to the grocery store or train station.

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