The Design of the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus with CityPilot

On the 18th of July, the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus with Citypilot was presented in Amsterdam. We met the Design Team that created the Interior and Exterior Design of the Bus.

Sketches, pens and fabrics– the desk in front of us is full of them. Sitting around the desk with us are Cordula Lambert, Eva Müller, Mathias Lenz, Pieter Ketele, and Vincent Thess. Uwe Jauch is pinning further sketches to the wall. We are in the design office at Daimler Buses because we want to hear from the designers of the Future Bus at first hand: How did the design of the Future Bus come about? What's special about it? Where did they get their inspiration?

The Future Bus catches the eye straight away. How did you come up with the extraordinary design?

Thess: We wanted to make the city bus more organic since it is still a very technical object. We want to create an experience from inside and outside. It doesn't just transport people. It gives them an experience.That was the goal. That's where we wanted to go.

Jauch: With this in mind, we asked ourselves: What's happening in the urban sector? What do the cities look like? What aspects of the architecture stand out? The vehicle gives us totally new food for thought in terms of what the city bus could look like in a few years.

Lenz: Hardly anybody in cities takes the bus voluntarily. Most people have to take the bus. We want to change this. Passengers should be saying "I want to take the bus."

Will we see the Future Bus on the streets soon?

Thess: The Future Bus is a vision of the things we would like to do. And I'm sure that, when people see our future city buses, they will think that they've seen details somewhere before. But the question of which features we will actually see again and which will disappear is of course linked to cost, among other things.

Müller: The Color and Trim for instance is based on the idea of looking on common materials from a new perspective. With attention to details, we combined patterns and highlighted special features. The big impact of small details for the whole bus can be seen for example at the floor.A section of the floor Eva Müller is talking about is lying on the desk in front of us. It is modeled on a sheet of ice. The whole bus interior is based on the theme of a public park - a place people like to be in. 

Thess: Here you mustn't forget the customer perspective. Maybe the customer will see something in the Future Bus and then want to have this in other buses, too.

For example?

Thess: The asymmetrical ceiling, for instance, which may not catch the eye immediately but is nonetheless an absolute first. To date all city buses have featured a symmetrical design, even though the vehicle is actually asymmetrical because of the door positions alone. We incorporated this aspect into the ceiling, too, and split it in two.

The ceiling is white on the driver's side while, on the other side, it is made of light gray fabric with yellow cut surfaces. The designers provided a piece of the fabric for us to look at. It's obvious that this ceiling is purely handcrafted. The ceiling-high and triangular shaped grab handles branch out towards the ceiling lighting, which is reminiscent of a leaf canopy. Here the tree-like look picks up on the park theme again.

Thess: The seats are another aspect. Will they look exactly like this in future? Probably not, but the design idiom could be copied.

The shiny white seat shells with their upholstered cushions really are modeled on designer seats. Only at second glance does it become apparent that the rear of the backrest is in the same green as the cut surfaces on the ceiling.

What design innovation is particularly close to your heart?

Lambert: For me, it's the fabric ceiling with the color highlights. The idea of putting color into the background can also be seen on the seats, of which only the backs are in color. Normally it's the seats that stand out because of their color. We wanted to turn that around. Plus the interior has far more of a furniture character than in traditional buses. Rather than have the side wall and then the individual seats, it's far more of a landscape.

Müller: Our goal was to create a whole interior that surprises people when they board the bus. People see this ice floor and may be irritated at first. Then they start to discover the whole space bit by bit. When you sit down, you notice that the ceiling is half fabric and looks different to the ones in other buses. That is totally new.

Thess: I think that the symbiosis of interior and exterior is a great success, too.  It's not a case of having a shell with design idiom A and a content with design idiom B. The two grew together. The vehicle is transparent.

Jauch: I think we've done a good job of picking up on the design of previous city buses and further developing it. Plus I think it's exciting to detach oneself a little from the classic one-box design of the bus. We have flowing themes that continue from the outside to the inside. And the asymmetry of the front and rear ends is something totally new.

On a sketch we can see that the front section of the bus is reminiscent of familiar features from older models, such as the curved windscreen from the Citaro Ü or the classic design idiom below the windscreen from the O 303. The side walls of the bus are based on the city architecture and thus offer the eye an array of forms to look at.

Ketele: I like the interaction of the whole design. When you see a few of the exterior details, you wonder what they're supposed to be. Then you board the bus, and it all starts to become clear.

Lenz: What I found particularly exciting is how we played with light. Both in the interior and on the exterior. The classic radiator grille is now created by means of light. The paddles, as we call them, are seen as light signatures. When the headlamps are really blazing, they look like the round headlamps on the commercial vehicles of the 1970s and 80s. When you look at the rear end, you can recognize the well-known ribbed light seen on passenger cars in the past. We also have a light signature on the side to indicate the driving mode. When the bus is driving semi-autonomously, the side lighting lights up blue.

Why was that important?

Jauch: It acts as a signal for other road users. It's very important for the interaction between autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles to work.

Do you think this could also unnerve people?

Thess: The autonomous vehicle is much safer on the road than its manually controlled counterpart. We will have to learn to trust the machines because they can do certain things better than we can. Light is also used to communicate the current driving mode to the passengers inside the bus.

Is there a connection between the bus and the event location of Amsterdam?

Lambert: The Future Bus is full of emotions. Normally a city bus wouldn't be as emotive as a touring coach. We wanted to change that by creating visual stimuli. Amsterdam inspired us in this sense because the city is daring and youthful yet also full of historic architecture. This contrast was exciting for us. 

Would the bus nevertheless work all over the world? Or is it a European bus? A Dutch bus?

Ketele: We hope it works everywhere. The design idiom is international. Nevertheless some of the highlights we have incorporated are reminiscent of the host country and the host city.
We did deliberate this, among other things, because the seating arrangement is rather exceptional. People directly face each other. This is perhaps better for the Dutch as they have a more open and communicative nature than some other cultures.

Thess: The initial idea was to have all the passengers sat facing the outside. But this means that boarding passengers would be met by the sight of the other passengers' backs. This aspect didn't fit in with our idea of offering a new experience.

Lenz: We are living in a digital world, but sometimes it's also good to communicate by analog means. The idea of sitting opposite each other and being able to look at each other also enhances the appeal.

Another noticeable aspect of the seating layout is that there are fewer seats. How does this fit in with the urbanization megatrend?

Lenz: The bus is a 12-meter long solo bus and has an interior layout that permits 16 seats. Although this is a relatively small number of seats, the bus can carry 70 to 80 passengers if it is used to its optimum capacity, as is the case with a standard vehicle.

So the focus is more on standing passengers?

Lenz: We've divided the bus into three zones. Firstly, we have the Express zone for people who want to board and alight the bus quickly. Then there is the Service zone and the Lounge zone, both of which are aimed at people traveling for ten or more stops. We deliberately extended our focus to the requirements of the individual passengers.

Another aspect is the new door arrangement in the Future Bus. Why did you decide to position the doors in the middle of the bus?

Thess: Instead of attempting to create a flow of passengers from front to rear, which often doesn't work, our idea is to create a 'fountain'. There are two large doors, which allow organized chaos of the kind seen at a large church portal, for example. A traffic-light system is used to indicate the door for boarding the bus. Plus there is no longer any need to have the door at the front of the bus for the driver to check tickets as this job is done by the e-ticketing system.

Are there any entertainment elements in the bus?

Lenz: Firstly there is a WLAN, secondly we have provided inductive charging docks on the wheel arches, where passengers can charge their cell phones or laptops. Also, there are monitors which provide all information needed. These are just examples, and it would be possible to add to these options, of course.

The omission of a passenger entrance opposite the driver and the autopilot system open up new possibilities for the cockpit. What's changed here?

Thess: It's still important for the driver to monitor the traffic attentively. But it's now an area in which passengers can stay rather than an entrance area. We wanted to offer a generously proportioned space and an area not seen before in buses. Plus the open cockpit enhances the transparency of the bus. I can see whether the driver is driving or not. 

Lenz: For us it's about provoking discussion through design. Our goal is not to rationalize the driver but, rather, to give him a task. We want to have a driver. His task is now the one of a "carkeeper". He looks out for the vehicle. But he also looks out for the passengers and is there for them. We don't want the vehicle to be on the road without a driver. It's a different approach to the one adopted by other companies.

After the meeting, we head for the workshop. Here there are material samples and moodboards on the walls, bus seats standing on the floor, and tools lying around. The creative minds of the design team have given us a fascinating insight and above all presented the bus to us in a very personal way – touching on all the individual highlights. This team has created an incredible innovation, and we are looking forward to seeing parts of the Future Bus in our standard-production buses in the future. Truly everyone will then be able to say: "I don't have to take the bus, I want to take the bus!"

Find a Video about the Design here:

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