Mercedes-Benz Future Bus as a technology platform: from the passenger compartment to the passenger's dream, the revolutionary exterior and interior design

  • Exterior: Unique symbiosis of form and function
  • Interior: From the passenger compartment to the passenger's dream
  • Cockpit: Innovative driver area as part of the interior

As a technology platform, the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus sends out unmistakable messages about the attractive local public transport of the future, and invites its passengers to enjoy a fascinating driving experience. Its design intentionally breaks with conventions, and is based on new approaches. The result is completely new design solutions. These benefit passengers, the driver and bus operators. The ready-to-drive city bus offers its passengers maximum comfort, functionality and information, gives its driver a radically simplified cockpit and benefits bus operators with rapid passenger flows. Both the exterior and interior designs are inspired by architecture, and the interior also revolutionises the use of space. Despite its futuristic design full of trailblazing ideas, the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus relies on well-proven large-scale production technology for the bodyshell, powertrain and suspension: it is based on the platform of today's most popular city bus, the globally best-selling Mercedes-Benz Citaro.

Innovative design of city buses has a long tradition at Mercedes-Benz

With its innovative exterior and interior design, the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus systematically continues on a path which Mercedes-Benz has successfully taken with the Citaro for decades. Around 20 years ago, the first generation of the Citaro set new standards in exterior and interior design. Major features such as the A0-pillar, generous glazed areas and the passenger-friendly interior with wall-mounted cantilever seating and curved, vertical grab rails gave birth to a completely new design line for city buses. This has established itself worldwide, and been widely imitated.

The version of the Mercedes-Benz Citaro for the city of Hanover during Expo 2000 and for Leipzig shows how individual this series production city bus can be in appearance. The first and second generations of the large CapaCity articulated buses with the Metrobus design package, as well as versions of the Citaro G articulated bus for cities such as Nantes and Strasbourg, are further examples of heavily individualised city buses with a highly attractive exterior and interior.

With its friendly face, harmoniously flowing lines, a low beltline and dynamically styled, three-dimensional wheel arches, the current Mercedes-Benz Citaro likewise shows how attractive a regular service bus can be.

Exterior: Unique symbiosis of form and function

However, the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus is more radical than its predecessor, and intentionally breaks with conventions and standard design and spatial concepts for city buses. It was created from a blank sheet of paper. The result: the exterior and interior design is an extraordinary symbiosis of form and function.

The front section impresses with its clear layout. Below the windscreen the Mercedes star as a trademark is the centrepiece. Two white light bars extend from it to each side. In view of their shape, the designers refer to these as "paddles". Their illumination in white (manual) and blue (semi-automated) indicates the current driving status of the bus.

At the top the windscreen transitions into a compact destination indicator. A panel covers the area above the driver. This design touch symbolises the fact that the driver on board this semi-automated city bus only plays a diminished role behind the wheel. The technology platform dispenses with conventional exterior mirrors in favour of camera systems, so-called mirrorcams.

In its basic form the low side wall takes its lead from the current Citaro. This is made obvious by the dynamically styled wheel arches, for example. The side walls have a silver paint finish, as has the roof panelling. This covers the roof-mounted equipment and ensures an integrated appearance. The cladding panels are intentionally asymmetrical in design. They are inspired by forms found in urban architecture, but are also strictly functional. For example, an exterior facing on the windows of the left side covers the info-terminal on the inside.

Two double doors in the centre speed up passenger flows

The door arrangement of the city bus is also a departure from convention. Like the entire bus, it has been rethought. The usual doors facing the cockpit and behind the rear axle are omitted - instead passengers enter and leave the bus via two double-width doors between the axles.

These doors are marked with luminescent bands on the outside – green means entry, red means exit – to speed up passenger flows in the standing zone between the axles. This therefore becomes the "main traffic zone" in the city bus, as this is where the majority of passengers only covering short distances will congregate. At the same time this calms the other areas in the interior – a benefit for passengers spending longer on board.

An electronic ticket system makes the usual ticket control by the driver unnecessary. The ticket system is a major part of the vehicle's connectivity – the driver is able to concentrate on key activities rather than selling and checking tickets.

At the same time e-ticketing considerably speeds up passenger flows, which means shorter stopping times at bus stops and faster travel times, making travel by bus even more attractive for passengers. The design plus the completely reorganised passenger flows therefore have a positive overall influence on the bus as a transport system.

Corner pillars like a frame, innovative rear lights

The rear end also has a new design, with a basic paint finish in black. The panel on the left echoes the design of the front section. The corner pillars are formed like a frame, and suggest stability. Their lines flow into the panelling on the roof, sidewalls and rear end. The rear lights are likewise new. The strip between the rear lights indicates the driving mode: it lights up in blue during semi-automated driving, and in white during manual operation.

Design and function complement each other perfectly in the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus, and set new standards in this combination. But as unusual and exciting the design of the city bus may be, it is based on the Mercedes-Benz Citaro in the version with a vertical engine, of which many thousands of examples have proved their worth. The structural skeleton of the bus has remained practically untouched.

Interior: From the passenger compartment to the passenger's dream

Like the exterior, the interior of the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus opens up completely new perspectives on the urban public transport of tomorrow. The passenger compartment of the technology platform forms a contrast to conventional interior layouts. It takes its lead from public spaces such as squares and parks, and has nothing in common with the usual appearance of a city bus. Inside and outside blend together, as the bus also connects to the outside world through its design, and becomes one with it.

Following the low-floor principle throughout, the interior is divided into three zones: At the front near the driver is the "Service" zone, in the middle near the doors the "Express" zone for short distances and mainly standing passengers and rapid passenger flows. At the rear is the "Lounge" zone intended for a longer stay on board.

Despite these different user zones, the entire passenger compartment is open-plan in nature. The floor covering is in scratched white/light blue with sparkling inserts. Visually it resembles an icy surface, also in recognition of the venue for the world premiere. A light strip makes orientation in the interior easier. This changes colour between white (manual mode) and blue (semi-automated mode) depending on the operating status of the bus.

The already generous glazed area is visually enlarged by a black band. At waist level a silver-grey band of fabric meanders along the walls, underlining the cosiness of the interior. All in all the regular service city bus is transformed into an urban living space.

This shift is also emphasised by the seating layout: in contrast to the usual arrangement, the passenger seats are arranged along the walls in asymmetrical groups. This grouping is also reminiscent of a city square or park with benches. The impression gained is one of a structured space with various retreats. The seats are shining white shells with a padded surface and a light-green backrest. Their lines have been inspired by designer chairs. The design idiom combines classic seat contours with zeitgeist influences. People entering this environment feel more like guests than passengers.

Grab rails like trees, lighting like leaves and sunlight from the ceiling

The grab rails for standing passengers are arranged in the centre zone. In the larger standing-room segments of current city buses there is already a trend towards centrally arranged grab rails resembling a trident. The technology platform takes this idea further and combines it with the park-like layout of the interior. The result is triangular, light metallic grab rails extending to ceiling height. These are easy to grip, and branch upwards like trees.

Following the same theme, the ceiling lighting in the form of geometric patterns grouped near the branching grab rails is reminiscent of a leaf canopy. The ceiling itself is divided in terms of materials and colours: on the driver's side it is in matt satin pure white, while on the right side it is lined in light-coloured fabric with a light-green surface pattern. The visual effect is that it brings sunlight into the bus, assisted by the interior lighting. The passenger compartment thus becomes a space where passengers feel comfortable and at ease, a space they enter gladly rather than out of necessity.

Information, entertainment and advertising via large monitors

Apart from its appearance and choice of materials, the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus as a technology platform also breaks new ground with respect to information technology and the associated connectivity. Passengers receive information from two 43-inch monitors. These are embedded in an overhead console in the central zone of the passenger compartment.

They allow the bus's progress along the route to be followed, and provide information and entertainment similar to that in an airport waiting area. Whether the latest news, the image from a driver camera or advertising spots – there are no limits to the imagination, and passenger information reaches a totally new level.

Cockpit: Innovative driver area as part of the interior

In the city bus of tomorrow, the driver also takes a seat in the cockpit of tomorrow. The driver's workplace is fundamentally different to that in a conventional 2016 city bus. For example, the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus does not compartmentalise its cockpit – the driver area becomes part of the interior, and even manages without a partition and separating door. A certain degree of separation occurs automatically thanks to omission of the front entry door, however.

The cockpit itself is both welcoming and homely. The driver area of the city bus has a continuation of the silver-grey fabric surround that forms a band around the interior. In view of semi-automated driving with a host of automated procedures and actions, the city bus of tomorrow dispenses with the familiar, substantially standardised VDV cockpit. Instead an airy, lightweight instrument panel support is used.

Display with reduced vehicle information and more route-related data

Conventional instruments are replaced by an informative 12.3-inch display with specific information. This has been reduced to the essentials where vehicle functions are concerned, but considerably expanded with regard to route information. At the same time the form of display has been brought to a new level.

The current speed is shown digitally in the centre, and symbolically also the route ahead with the next traffic lights and bus stops, plus the distances to them. The display also reports impending activities – e.g. when an automatic stop is due at a traffic light or bus stop. Tunnel entrances and exits ahead are also displayed. The central instrument also points out vehicles ahead, or any obstacles on the road, and indicates the distance to them.

If the bus is driven in manual mode by a driver, a second speedometer is added as a dial instrument with segments, and the figures in the digital display become larger.

Traffic lights and bus stops in an information display

When there is a traffic light, bus stop, vehicle or obstacle ahead, an information graphic appears on the right of the display. This takes the form of an arc. At traffic lights and bus stops, this uses a countdown with coloured segments and figures in seconds to show the expected time before the journey can continue, that the traffic light has been reached or that the lights will change. By looking at a stylised silhouette of the bus, the driver can also monitor the status of the doors, which is important when halting at a bus stop.

Dial instruments with coloured segments on the left side of the display show the fuel and AdBlue levels and the status of the onboard electrical system. A function bar at the top of the display contains the icons for the ready status of all systems, for example the traffic light recognition system with camera and V2I (Vehicle to Infrastructure) identification, or the locating system. A second function bar at the bottom of the display informs the driver of e.g. the odometer reading, transmission status and the gear engaged. The control lamps are also located here.

Familiar control buttons moved to the left

The usual control buttons and switches in a conventional city bus are not required when driving semi-autonomously – whether the doors, lighting or windscreen wiper, all are controlled automatically. For this reason the relevant controls have been moved to the left, from the instrument panel to the console below the window sill. This still leaves them readily accessible for manual driving outside enclosed BRT routes.

Thanks to the mirrorcams, the driver no longer has to consult conventional exterior mirrors for a view to the rear. The externally mounted camera systems transfer the image onto large monitors. They are mounted inside, near the A-pillar. Installation at the height familiar from classic mirrors makes it easier for experienced bus drivers to change over to the new technology.

Alternatives to the state-of-the-art diesel engine: gas and electric drive

The drive unit is located on the opposite end of the bus: The Mercedes-Benz OM 936 in-line six-cylinder engine, probably the world's most modern diesel engine for city buses, is installed on the left in the rear. It develops 220 kW (299 hp), meets the Euro VI emission standard and transfers its power to the driven low-floor portal axle via an automatic torque converter transmission.

This does not have to be the only alternative, however: the new Mercedes-Benz M 936 G gas engine would also be conceivable. This impresses with even lower emissions than a diesel engine, and even quieter running. But the possibilities by no means end there, as Mercedes-Benz has announced a battery-electric drive system for city buses for 2018. Thanks to the omission of an engine in the rear, this will open up new possibilities for an attractive interior design. But above all, the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus will then not only be semi-automated and extremely safe, but also locally emissions-free and as quiet as a whisper as it powers into the future.

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