Drones, robots a part of Mercedes-Benz’s vision for final mile deliveries

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Mercedes-Benz continues through its van division to reimagine how final mile deliveries will be completed in the future.

Last fall at the IAA Commercial Vehicles Show in Hanover, Germany, Mercedes-Benz showcased its Vision Van, complete with rooftop drones capable of delivering packages to their final destination. That van was shown at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev., where Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, said the company is bringing more “holistic” solutions to its commercial customers.

A robot from Starship Technologies prepares to grab a package from a Sprinter van.
A robot from Starship Technologies prepares to grab a package from a Sprinter van.

“With this product, we would like to show what’s possible in the near future when it comes to transportation,” Mornhinweg said. “We are putting our vans as an instrument into the Internet of Things.”

The Vision Van concept was developed in response to increasing urbanization and virtualization, which will require delivery companies to become more efficient. The drones can be used to deliver packages from the van to nearby residences and businesses, or even to deliver a package from a distribution center to a van that has already departed on its route.

During CES, Mercedes-Benz also demonstrated for the press a Sprinter Van loaded with robots capable of delivering packages to their final destinations. The Vans and Robots project featured robots built by Starship Technologies. They had a range of two miles and could carry payloads of up to 20 lbs. The robots have undergone more than 15,000 hours of testing over more than two years, according to Henry Harris-Burland of Starship Technologies.

Andreas Raptopoulos, chief executive officer at Matternet, the company that manufactures the drones used by the Vision Van, said drones are likely to first be deployed in heavily populated cities where they can assist with crucial time-sensitive deliveries, such as medications or test results required by hospitals.

“I see an inflection point with this technology in around 2020,” Raptopoulos said at CES. “I believe we are going to be seeing drone delivery projects in the next several years and will see an inflection point.”

But he cautioned against expecting to see a drone-filled sky anytime soon.

“A drone will be involved in the transportation chain, maybe not where you see it,” he said.

Matternet’s drones can carry payloads of less than two kilograms or three litres.


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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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