Mercedes-Benz released its design plans for an electric delivery vehicle that could operate in congested city centers and use drones to take packages to people’s doorsteps.
The all-new electric Vision van would be emission-free and rely on automated systems for loading, transporting and delivering packages.
Mercedes-Benz, a division of German car and truck manufacturer Daimler AG, described the van as the first “to feature a fully automated cargo space and integrated delivery drones.”
“This makes it easier for the deliverer to do business and rapidly reduces the delivery time for end customers,” said Volker Mornhinweg, director of Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz Vans division.
There’s no steering wheel or pedals in the van. Instead, a drive-by-wire control system integrates all steering and driving functions electrically. The operator uses a joystick to guide the van.
Delivery drones are positioned on launching and landing platforms on the roof. A computer system has already recorded the delivery addresses, weights, dimensions and the desired times or time windows for delivery. The data also contains information as to whether the customers have a landing station for drone delivery. A computer then calculates the most mix of manual and drone deliveries and plans the route.
The van features an all-electric powertrain and an electric motor that produces 75 kilowatts, or 100 horsepower, and can go about 50 mph. Moving almost silently, this allows the van to operate in cities with traffic restrictions or for late-night deliveries in residential areas.
“This gives our customers the possibility of offering new services to their customers,” Mornhinweg said.
The electric drive system is important because Mercedes-Benz said that will allow the van to operate in inner-city zones where the automaker anticipates bans on vehicles with internal combustion engines.
Mercedes produced the concept vehicle to show what type of delivery van research it is doing and where the industry is headed. It did not say when such a van might be produced.
“Right now, this isn’t a real product, this is an idea based on what the retailers like Walmart and Amazon are saying they want to do,” Michael Ramsey, an analyst at Gartner Inc. told Trucks.com. “It’s a smart move for Daimler because they are the first ones stepping up with their vision for this product.”
“I think it’s likely to be a decade before you see more than a handful of vehicles like this operating,” Ramsey said. “And you won’t see a huge number in production at first, they will be slowly rolled out based on customers’ demands.”
Earlier this year, Mercedes-Benz executives told Trucks.com that the automaker is considering launching a battery-based Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van around the end of the decade, approximately the same time it plans the next redesign of the large commercial van.
Other automakers, shippers and technology companies are looking at how to automate package delivery.
Ford Motor Co. is exploring how to leverage its autonomous vehicle research by developing driverless technology for use by delivery services.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded Google a patent for a self-driving delivery truck.
The patent documents depict a typical delivery truck, similar to what UPS and FedEx use, with lockers on the outside of the vehicle. The vehicle would robotically drive to a home or office and digitally signal the recipient that a package had arrived. The individual would walk out to the van, punch a code into the locker’s keypad and remove the package.
Cincinnati-based Workhorse Group, an electric truck maker and a UPS vendor, is developing a method to launch delivery drones from the roof of its trucks, saving drivers time, effort and battery power of visiting each doorstep in a neighborhood.