Automated self-drive vehicles have become the next big thing in the automotive world.
German automaker Mercedes-Benz has given a glimpse of the future public transportation by unveiling a new self-driving, semi-automated 'Future Bus'.
CRI's Spencer Musick explains that, despite the autonomous vehicle industry being under intense scrutiny after a recent fatal accident, industry experts say the advantages of autopilot systems are too great to ignore.
A photo shows Mercedes-Benz's futuristic autonomous city bus.
In just a few years, buses may drive on our roads without a driver's hands on the wheel or foot on the pedal.
German car manufacturer Daimler, which owns the Mercedes-Benz brand, is already taking steps to introduce an autonomous vehicle to be used for public transport.
Daimler is unveiling a futuristic semi-automated bus, called the 'Mercedes-Benz Future Bus'.
It's equipped with technology which detects traffic lights, other vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles, and steers the vehicle in the right direction, under the supervision of a driver.
Hartmut Schick is the head of Daimler Buses. He calls automats driving technology a safety tool meant to support, not replace, the driver.
"The most important thing is that we will have more safety in the bus. The systems work 24 hours a day and they support the driver. So I would say to the two eyes of the driver, we add 20 eyes of cameras, of radar, and everything. It is one important thing. Also important, the driver is always monitoring the system, and he always can react. This is very important in this phase for the next five years."
Despite the vehicle's autonomous 'CityPilot' technology, the driver is still present at all times.
That means they can take the wheel when oncoming traffic approaches - as traffic rules demand - and oversee the journey and intervene if needed.
Passengers onboard the Future Bus can wirelessly charge their smartphones on inductive charging pads, large electronic screens show speed and route information.
The bus uses a GPS system for positioning and can recognize and communicate with traffic lights, allowing it to safely navigate through junctions.
Several cameras scan the road and nearby surroundings, while long and short-range radar systems constantly monitor the route ahead.
Wolfgang Bernhard, the head of Daimler Trucks and Buses, says this level of autonomy is an extension of Mercedes' Highway Pilot, a system premiered two years ago which allows trucks to drive partially automated on motorways.
"In making a bus autonomously driving, we took everything that we invented for the Highway Pilot and put it into the bus. But on top of that, we had to develop a number of additional features, such as traffic light recognition, pedestrian recognition, bicycle recognition, and then getting to the curb at the bus stop in a very precise way."
At the moment, this Mercedes-Benz Future Bus is transporting passengers in Amsterdam. But it will not be put into production just yet.
And at the moment, a Vienna convention on road traffic - named ECE R79 - limits the level of autonomous technology on public roads.
Still, people like Jim Holder, Editorial Director of Autocar, an automotive magazine, see a real future for driverless technology:
"Yeah, I think the Future Bus is a peek into the future of public transport, because it shows what can happen. It's the first steps in autonomous driving for busses. They have rated at what we call level two, and there is a five-level stage for autonomous driving, so it's very much at the early steps, but by trialing it they can learn and they can improve, so ultimately I think we will see autonomous busses on our roads."