Mercedes takes on Amazon Prime Air with this drone mothership

Mercedes has just revealed a van that might change how we think about deliveries forever. As well as using old-fashioned humans, the Mercedes Vision van uses a crack team of delivery robots alongside a swarm of parcel drones – and the van acts as a landing pad, battery station and cargo storage for both. It may  sound like something from a Philip K. Dick novel, but it actually solves some niggling problems with our current system of human-led deliveries.

A drone and robot mothership

The Mercedes’ Vision van was developed in association with drone startup Matternet, and  the idea behind it is pretty simple. It’s basically an autonomous delivery system that uses a team of drones and robots to deliver lighter packages, but needs a human driver for bulkier items.

The van’s Matternet M2 drones use robotic shelving and cargo scanning technology to quickly find the package to be loaded  onto the drone. The system then uses GPS and a glorified sat nav to calculate the fastest route for delivery.

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According to our sister site Auto Express, the drones have 20km radius and can carry up to 20kg at speeds of up to 60kph – which is pretty impressive. What’s more,  once the M2 returns to the van, its battery can be replaced autonomously too – removing the need for humans altogether. Mercedes suggest there’ll be two drones per van, so the system would allow for a steady flow of autonomous deliveries.

But it’s not all just about drones: The Mercedes vans will also carry a team of robots which carry parcels more locally. Developed with Starship technologies the robots will use GPS to reach their destination and then automatically return to the van after the delivery is made.

Is the Vision van the future of deliveries?

Although it sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi blockbuster, combining van and drone solves a number of problems. Firstly, the Vision van could benefit traffic-packed urban areas where quick deliveries are near impossible, using the robots to deliver small parcels on the pavement, and using drones used to to completely avoid any type of congestion.

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What’s more, the M2 could deliver packages from a retailer’s warehouse to a van, where they can be collected. Mercedes also wants the software compatible with a mobile app, and that means customers could order their packages, and receive them in a ridiculously short amount of time.

So how does it compare to the Amazon Prime Air? Although the Vision van is nothing more than a concept right now, it actually has some serious potential. The main difference  is that it can be used in many different ways; from a collection point to an automated delivery system.

By combining drones and vans, the Mercedes system is able to cut down flight times too, reducing airborne congestion. Given that Mercedes plans to sink €500m into the initiative over the next 5 years, signs are good that this is a serious plan which could just change the world of deliveries.

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