Mercedes-Benz unveils delivery concepts that combine vans with robots and drones

Mercedes-Benz unveils delivery concepts that combine vans with robots and drones

Mercedes-Benz Vans is working with Starship Technologies and Matternet to create new last mile delivery concepts which combine vans with both land-based robots and flying drones. In a statement sent to Post&Parcel today (7 September), Starship Technologies explained how the concept would work with the land-based delivery robot: “The semi-autonomous transportation system will see Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans act as ’motherships’, hosting eight delivery robots. The vans will drive through neighbourhoods, stopping in designated locations, based on delivery density and demand, to drop off and pick up robots to complete customer deliveries.”

The robots will be loaded with their goods in the ‘Robovan’ using a racking system that enables 400 packages to be delivered every 9-hour shift, compared to 180 packages using previously available methods, an increase of over 120%.

Ahti Heinla, CEO of Starship Technologies, commented: “Starship Technologies has solved the last mile problem by introducing sidewalk delivery robots. However, vans are best suited to bring goods to the local area from businesses and distribution centers. When the two transportation methods converge into one, the outcome is the most efficient, cost effective and convenient local delivery method in the world.’’

Allan Martinson, Starship’s Chief Operating Officer, added: “A typical van delivery today involves driving to a delivery area, and then spending an entire day on door-to-door deliveries. By leaving the door-to-door part to delivery robots the van drivers’ productivity will significantly rise while reducing congestion on the streets and CO2 emissions.”

The Mercedes-Benz Vans partnership follows Starship Technologies’ launch of commercial delivery tests in the UK, Germany and Switzerland last month with partners Just Eat, Hermes, Metro Group, and Swiss Post, offering robotic delivery for the food, grocery and parcel industries.

The idea of using a delivery truck as a “mothership” from which autonomous delivery machines can be despatched does have some precedents.

In the US, for example, the Workhorse Group came up with the concept of combining its Workhouse trucks with aerial “Horsefly” delivery drones. In the Workhorse model, the Horsefly drones would sit on top of the Workhorse and fly to their drop off their parcels when they are in the destination neighbourhood.

Australia Post has also been looking at the idea of combining trucks and drones for deliveries in rural districts.

What makes Mercedes Benz’s work in this area particularly interesting is that it is working on projects which combine trucks with land-based delivery robots (from Starship) and also trucks equipped with flying drones, courtesy of Matternet.

In the “Vision Van” model with the Matternet drones, the drones will use “technology that is integrated into the roof of the van, allowing for precision landing and automatic payload and battery exchange”.

In a statement issued today, Matternet said that autonomous drone systems “hold the promise of vastly more efficient, faster and cheaper delivery”.

Andreas Raptopoulos, co-founder and CEO of Matternet, added: “In Mercedes-Benz Vans, we found a partner that is not only synonymous with quality, safety, reliability and efficiency, but is also willing to imagine and create the future of transportation with us.

“We are driven by a common vision to automate last-mile logistics, which today is the least efficient and most expensive part of logistics. Through this partnership, we are building solutions that will dramatically reduce the time and cost of on-demand delivery.”

In its own statement about its partnership with Matternet, Mercedes Benz Vans said that the “Vision Van” is the “first van worldwide to serve as an integrated concept for a completely digitally connected process chain, from the goods distribution depot to the consignee”.

Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, commented: “With the Vision Van we are presenting the intelligent, clean and fully interconnected van of the future.

“The Vision Van integrates many concrete concepts for future delivery operations in the urban environment, such as a fully automatic cargo space, autonomously flying delivery drones and innovative communication features.”

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