Mercedes Will Teach Its Self-Driving Cars to Recognize School Buses

The automaker is conducting an around-the-world autonomous tour.

Self-driving cars can recognize other vehicles, but they also need to know what type of vehicles they're sharing the road with, says Mercedes-Benz. The German automaker sent its self-driving cars on a global tour, dubbed Intelligent World Drive, to learn about real-life traffic situations that may be specific to certain regions. One of the takeaways from the recently-completed U.S. leg was the need to identify school buses.

Because all traffic must stop when a school bus unfolds its red sign, the buses represent an unusual traffic situation, Mercedes noted. The team shepherding Mercedes' S-Class autonomous prototype around California and Nevada also found that carpool lanes pose a U.S.-specific problem. Self-driving cars need to learn to distinguish them from regular road lanes. Even U.S. speed-limit signs pose a problem, Mercedes said, because the design is specific to this country.

More potential trouble for the self-driving car are Bott's Dots, the raised bumps that are sometimes used to mark lanes instead of painted lines. It's harder for a car's sensors to recognize Bott's Dots than traditional painted lines, according to Mercedes. The automaker is holding out some hope that governments will just get rid of them. California plans to remove the roughly 20 million Bott's Dots on its roads to facilitate the deployment of self-driving cars, Mercedes said.

Data gathered on school buses, carpool lanes, and Bott's Dots during the autonomous U.S. road trip will be used to help develop future Mercedes self-driving cars, as well as driver-assist systems. The U.S. leg was the last of five in Mercedes' Intelligent World Drive, which kicked off in September 2017 at the Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany. Previous legs covered Germany, China, Australia, and South Africa.

In addition to autonomous driving, Mercedes tested its Digital Light system in California and Nevada. Mercedes claims the system can provide high-beam levels of light constantly without blinding other drivers. It can also project symbols onto the road in order to communicate. That could be important for future self-driving cars, since developers will need a substitute for hand signals and eye contact for communicating with other road users.