It’s likely that we will see self-driving buses before we see self-driving cars; they follow relatively fixed routes, (for now, anyway) and bus drivers are a major expense. Mercedes has already demonstrated the Future Bus with CityPilot in the Netherlands, running it twelve miles from Schiphol airport to the town of Haarlem. According to Greg Migliore in Autoblog,
CityPilot advances the technology used for Highway Pilot, which was shown on a Mercedes work truck two years ago. The city version is designed to navigate busy areas with lots of people, and it can recognize traffic lights – and communicate with them – and people, obstacles, and other potential things a bus would encounter during urban driving. The bus also can navigate tunnels, brake on its own, and can automatically open and close its doors. It has a top speed of 43.5 miles per hour.
It apparently has a dozen cameras, four close range radar sensors covering 30 feet around the front of the bus to detect pedestrians, stereo cameras to detect pedestrians 200 feet ahead, and yet another system, a long range radar system to detect vehicles 650 feet ahead.
Wait, there’s more: It talks to traffic lights. “By adjusting speed accordingly, the bus can take advantage of phased traffic lights, which is convenient for the passengers on one hand, and lowering fuel consumption on the other.”
The interior design of the bus is interesting too. According to the Daimler press release,
[The design] takes its lead from city squares and parks. The passenger compartment is truly a passenger's dream. It is divided into three zones for different lengths of stay. Designer seats are loosely arranged along the walls in each zone. Innovative grab rails reflect the park-like theme by branching upwards like trees towards the two-tone ceiling. The ceiling lighting resembles a leaf canopy.
Of course, if everyone is looking at their phone they won’t notice. But it does look like a moving living room, and if it is autonomous, perhaps they can run enough of them so it doesn’t become a very crowded living room.
Mercedes says that it is “is ideally suitable for BRT [Bus Rapid Transit] systems, with which it is possible to resolve worldwide traffic problems in densely populated areas and metropolitan regions. It operates highly efficiently, significantly improves the level of safety and relieves driver workload.” - A dedicated bus lane with a driver there to take over in a crunch is probably a great way to start.