The autonomous public transport of the future has made it to the first bus stop. The Mercedes-Benz “Future Bus” drove 20 kilometers (approximately 12 miles) from the Amsterdam airport to the town of Haarlem in the Netherlands, marking the first time that a self-driving bus has dealt with traffic lights, tunnels, people, public roads, and numerous stops all on its own.
Mercedes-Benz’s announcement of the successful trip is a huge leap forward for both the company and autonomous technology. City roads have proven difficult for autonomous car companies to manage — Tesla’s Autopilot is optimized for highway, and Google is far from testing its cars with non-employee passengers. What’s more, the Future Bus is a symbol of future public transportation, not private. Relatively few people can drive the giant rectangle of a vehicle known as a bus in the first place, and if autonomous vehicles really do decrease car ownership, people will be spending a whole lot more time on public transportation.
The Future Bus will be ready when that day comes. On its first fully autonomous trip, it hit speeds of 70 km/h (around 43 mph) and stopped to pick up passengers, according to Mercedes’s press release.
Another Dutch service, 2getthere, debuted an autonomous pod back in April for designated roadways — but the pods were limited by where they were programmed to go. They were ideal for cruising through golf courses and ride hopping in Disneyland, but useless on city streets.
A Chinese company called Yutong is also working on autonomous buses, but so far it’s nowhere near as capable of what the Future Bus can do. Also, the inside of the Yutong bus looks like something from the 1980s. The Future Bus is almost Back to the Future level futuristic.
It’s got wireless charging ports:
A screen that looks remarkably like the Autopilot screen:
Ergonomically designed ceilings:
An impressive amount of passenger space:
In all seriousness, it can all be a bit overwhelming.
Welcome to the future.