Vans and drones are natural business partners says Daimler

Vans and drones are natural business partners says Daimler

Robotics will make inroads into commercial vehicles even before autonomous driving takes the reins, according to Daimler’s future focused designers and engineers.

That’s why the Mercedes-Benz Vision Van not only employs roof mounted drones, there are several R2-D2-like delivery bots to drop off packages direct to the customers’ doors. At a special event showing off the concept van at the Millbrook testing facility in Bedfordshire, factory technicians painted a scene of the van arriving in a target area with the bots and drones automatically loaded up in transit with the required deliveries for the area. Parking up, the driver presses the required buttons and off the bots go on their rounds. What’s more the driver doesn’t even have to wait for all the drones to return from further afield because, like homing pigeons, they will find the mother ship when they are finished.

Futuristic stuff but even one of the lead engineers behind Vision Van told TU-Automotive that he doesn’t expect Daimler ever to sell a commercial vehicle with all these assets.

Thomas Moser manager prototypes and show cars Daimler, explained: -“With Vision Van we don’t have any intention to make this as a serious product – it’s a standalone concept study to show how a holistic solution for last mile delivery could look like in the future. However, it has several practical features and we are looking at bringing some of those features to maturity to bring to market.

As an all-electric vehicle, Vision Van is a herald of the manufacturer’s commitment to market electric powertrain light commercial vehicles (LCVs) by 2018. It also showcases the potential of drone technology in final-mile deliveries.

Moser said: “We are working on some customer pilots to use drones for deliveries that, at the moment, is more a matter of regulation than technology. So the combination of a van and drone in terms of technology is quite mature. We are also working on cargo space management systems with automation in the cargo space so that the driver no longer has to do the handling of the cargo.

“Naturally, the systems won’t be as sophisticated as that on the Vision Van which will be some years before it comes to market. However, the systems we are working on are due to come out by end of this year beginning of next to show in reality the system can work.”

While Moser admitted there is some scope for LCVs to follow passenger vehicles into a sharing business model, the specific requirements of some fleets will always have to be met by an automaker.

Mobility explained: “We work on concepts that support a sharing culture and we already have in the field a system called Car2Share Cargo that provides on a very flexible base a dynamic rental scheme for vans when they’re needed. With a rental car, you tend to have a daily use without the flexibility of hiring a car just for an hour or two.

“With highly sophisticated products, such as Vision Van, are just one part of the overall process but if its done for one dedicated customer then it becomes difficult to roll out to other customers. However, sharing for goods vehicles will increase – we already see it with people moving.”

Moser is less convinced the entire delivery process will be handled by robots free from any direct human input in the near future. He explained: “This might come in the future. First step is having assistance systems for the driver who is still there and be able to react when requires. Then the next step will away from the public where we can have increased automation or even driverless functions but to come to the stage where you have a completely driverless system in traffic? That will take some considerable time.”


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