Why Does This Mercedes Concept Feature Roof-Mounted Drones?


Yes, those come standard.

No matter how much we humans inflate our egos by claiming we have intelligence that’s unrivaled by any other species, the simple fact is that we often make mistakes or run into time consuming roadblocks. That’s all good and well in the animal kingdom, but in our mechanized society, these inefficiencies mean lost time and money. Now, Mercedes wants to help eliminate some of that by becoming a purveyor of “holistic system solutions.” Doing so means unveiling this impressive creation, the Mercedes-Benz Vision Van.

What may seem like a quirky transportation device from the future, much like the Mercedes 2025 Concept Truck, is actually a clever solution to many of the issues that slow down last mile deliveries (a term that refers to the last leg of delivery). In line with the rest of the auto industry, the van will be all-electric with a range of 168 miles, or enough for a full day of deliveries. The zero-emissions drivetrain will also lift two barriers that normal delivery vans face: entering city centers with bans on gas and diesel engines and skating around neighborhood noise limits that prevent early morning or late night deliveries. To facilitate more quick deliveries, there are two drones stationed atop the Vision Van that can grab packages out of the van.

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When the vehicle arrives near the location, the drones will presumably drop shipments off at the receiver’s door. The drones, courtesy of an investment by Mercedes into startup Matternet, will free up the driver to deliver other packages, expediting the process. It seems as if every aspect of the van is optimized for speed because even the packages are dispensed to the driver when the truck arrives to the delivery address to save the time that usually goes towards digging in the back of the truck for the parcel. Packages are prearranged by a robot onto a rack, which is then loaded into the back of the van. A preplanned route is loaded into the van’s computer, and both deliveryman and machine are off.

If the driver needs to move the van in a way that the autonomous delivery truck cannot do itself, there is a joystick that the driver can control. The elimination of the steering wheel might sound like a bad plan, but it saves the deliveryman time when getting out of their seat. Once alighted, the rear wall of the cabin displays relevant information about the delivery including specific instructions on where to leave it or if the receiver needs to sign for the parcel. As cool as all of this might sound, it also seems like a stepping stone to getting rid of delivery drivers. For now, all that’s holding companies like Amazon back from having drones do all the work are regulations on drone flights, which would make the coolest feature on the Vision Van illegal in the US.