A city bus with the soul of an S-Class

Mercedes-Benz styles a dazzling makeover for the humblest of urban people-movers.

BUSES MAKE 32 BILLION JOURNEYS every year in Europe alone. That figure is bound to go up as global populations rise and more people move to urban centres. That’s why Mercedes-Benz — a luxury carmaker you’re unlikely to link with public transport — has debuted a flashy, futuristic new bus that drives itself, plans its own routes, saves fuel, and charges your phones.

The company's Future Bus is a twelve-metre long, semi-autonomous, glowing chariot that was announced earlier this week. It uses Daimler’s CityPilot technology, smart vehicle AI that’s similar to the tech it used for its Actros self-driving truck concept two years ago. The goal is to create as smooth, predictable, and energy-efficient of a ride as possible: Three qualities notoriously absent from buses' bad stereotypes.

Sharp bus design has long lagged behind subways and trains. But Mercedes-Benz wants to inject modernity and elegance to one of Earth’s most common, utilitarian modes of public transportation. Future Bus — while not incredibly spacious-looking — is outfitted with tons of cameras and long-range radar that extends 200 metres to visualise road hazards in 3D, and self-drive the bus down the road.

Future Bus’s maiden voyage shuttles flyers from the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam to the town of Haarlem, nearly 20km away. It’ll still be a while before we see a bus like this roaming up and down human-packed city avenues the world over — self-driving private cars are barely in the wild as it is. But this week’s announcement signals a promising prospect: A nicer bus could be right around the corner, driving its own way around it.

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