20.12.2016

Automated City Bus: Safe and Reliable Public Transport

Researchers develop innovative sensor concept and robust localisation for the autonomous Mercedes-Benz Future Bus / Thanks to the research work of the FZI, the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus was able to drive autonomously and without human assistance on a 20 kilometer route (approx. 12 miles) in July / Special challenges were tunnels, the speed limit of 70 km/h (approx. 43 mph) as well as the length of the bus of 12 meters (approx. 39 feet) / Close cooperation between research partner Daimler and the FZI

Drives through tunnels with changing lighting conditions, traffic light crossings, monotonous routes, and road markings that are difficult to distinguish, but also speed limits of 70 km/h (approx. 43 mph), crossing traffic or driving on dikes: Driving situations that are exhausting at most for a human driver, are a real challenge for autonomous vehicles. The researchers of the FZI Research Center for Information Technology have supported Daimler AG in realising such an autonomous drive without the intervention of a human driver – with a bus measuring 12 meters (approx. 39 feet). The new concept for the city bus was presented to a professional audience and to the public at the IAA Commercial Vehicles in Hannover, the International Motor Show Germany.

The bus celebrated its world premiere in July before approximately 200 journalists. The Mercedes-Benz Future Bus showed prototypically how the future city bus could look like: The vehicle based on a Mercedes-Benz Citaro, operating as a shuttle called CityPilot, had travelled a distance of 20 kilometers (approx. 12 miles), which is part of the longest bus rapid transit (BRT) route in Europe. On this route between Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and the town of Haarlem, Netherlands, the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus could prove for three days that it is able to master this challenging track just as reliably and confidently as an experienced bus driver, but completely autonomously and without any intervention of the driver.

Innovative sensor concepts and robust localisation

Possible obstacles of driverless driving and challenges are for example surroundings that are difficult to distinguish, faded road markings, changing light and weather conditions and drives through tunnels. With scientific support, the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus convinces with innovative sensor concepts and robust localisation.

For the researchers robust localisation means that a vehicle knows absolutely reliably at any time where it is. This is a prerequisite to make an autonomous drive possible. Whenever a human driver is able to see traffic events and to fall back on experience, the autonomous vehicle has to replace this knowledge through sensors and algorithms. Especially a bus measuring 12 meters (approx. 39 feet) with its swinging movements and large turning radius is much more difficult to keep on track.

Sensor fusion for more safety and reliability

Sensor fusion is the keyword that makes automated driving safer and more reliable through the intelligent combination of various information sources. A typical example for the premiere of the Future Bus in Amsterdam were tunnel drives. The GPS signal fades and disappears when entering a tunnel. However, it is still necessary that the bus knows exactly where it is. Changing lighting conditions in tunnels were an additional challenge on the bus rapid transit route: Blue light, yellow light, no light and then bright sunlight at the tunnel exit. Even camera-based systems help the bus to orient only in a limited way.

Thus, the researchers do not only rely on one kind of sensors such as lane-tracking cameras, but also on the fusion of many pieces of sensor data to make the Future Bus drive robustly and reliably. Thanks to the intelligent fusion of all camera, sensor and signal information as well as the knowledge of the driving system, the localisation becomes so precise that the bus can drive precisely – a feature that is mandatory when it comes to contraflow and acces ramps at bus stops. The system for the localisation of buses that was developed by FZI researchers is highly complex and was tested before the world premiere on the bus rapid transit route both on a computer and with a standard bus without any special modifications as an experimental vehicle and with the actual Show Car.

“Future public transport will not only be emission-free but also autonomous”, says Gustav Tuschen, Head of Product Engineering, Daimler Buses. “The CityPilot technology in the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus is based on the autonomous Mercedes-Benz Actros truck with the Highway Pilot that was introduced two years ago. However, it was crucially enhanced and supplemented with numerous functions for the specific use in a city onmibus. The FZI has supported us in this challenge with its scientific competence in the fields of systems and technologies in order to realise a vision for future public transport with the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus with CityPilot.”

Comprehensive press material such as images and videos can be viewed at http://media.daimler.com/marsMediaSite/en/instance/ko.xhtml?oid=12805965 and further information about the Future Bus can be found at https://www.daimler.com/innovation/autonomous-driving/future-bus.html

Background

The FZI has already been researching autonomous systems since its founding in the early eighties so that researchers were able to build upon 30 years of experience for the project. A total of four Research Departments of the FZI made the project possible with their know-how so that the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus was able to show its innovative sensor concepts and robust localisation at its world premiere. Daimler AG and the non-profit institution for applied research in information technology already had another premiere in 2013 in the field of autonomous driving: the fully-automated drive of an S-Class on the route that Bertha Benz had once used for the first car ride in history.

At this year’s IAA, one of the most important fairs for transport, logistics and mobility, around 2000 exhibitors from 52 countries have shown their innovations, including the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus with CityPilot. From 22 to 29 September 2016, the commercial vehicle sector presented solutions in the field of networked and automated driving at the fair. Another focus at the fair was the topic "urban logistics" that deals with improving traffic in cities and making it safer, eco-friendlier and more networked and efficient.

About the FZI Research Center for Information Technology

The FZI Research Center for Information Technology at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology is a non-profit institution for applied research in information technology and technology transfer. Its task is to provide businesses and public institutions with the latest research findings in information technology. It also qualifies young researchers for their career in academics or business as well as self-employment. Led by professors from different faculties, research teams at the FZI interdisciplinarily develop and prototype concepts, software, hardware and system solutions for their clients. The FZI House of Living Labs offers a unique research environment for applied research. Every department at the FZI operates under a certified quality management system according to DIN EN ISO 9001:2008.

The FZI headquarters are located in Karlsruhe. The branch office is located in Berlin.

Further information

Johanna Häs, FZI Corporate Communications and Media
FZI Research Center for Information Technology
Haid-und-Neu-Str. 10-14, 76131 Karlsruhe, Germany
Phone: +49 721 9654-904
Email: haes@dont-want-spam.fzi.de
Web: www.fzi.de