Mercedes-Benz Vans and drone tech start-up Matternet have created a concept car, which they call a ‘Vision Van’, that could change the way small packages are delivered across short distances. The Vision Van’s rooftop serves as a launch and landing pad for Matternet’s new ‘M2’ drones. The Matternet M2 drones, which are autonomous, can pick up and carry a package of 4.4 pounds across 12 miles of sky on a single battery charge in real world conditions.
They are designed to reload their payload and swap out batteries without human intervention. They work in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz Vans’ on-board and cloud-based systems so that items within a van are loaded up into the drone, automatically, at the cue of software and with the help of robotic shelving systems within the van. Matternet designed a hard-shelled case to protect and carry any given cargo.
The drone’s payload can transmit data about the contents and destination of a given delivery. For a logistics company using the Matternet M2 drones or Vision Vans, that data could serve as a kind of proof of delivery, and alert users the instant a package has arrived. Andreas Raptopoulos, Co-founder and CEO of Matternet explained that while all of this sounds and looks like the stuff of sci-fi, the vans with integrated drone technology could be put to immediate good use where regulations allow.
The Vision Van can, for example, launch a Matternet M2 drone with a payload to a final destination that’s not accessible to a van or driver, whether that’s due to traffic in a populated urban area or a lack of safe roads in a more rural or disaster-stricken area. Or, the drones could fly a package from a distribution centre or warehouse to a van so a driver can ultimately take the package down and walk it up to a customer’s doorstep nearby. A division of Daimler, Mercedes-Benz is better known for its luxury and sports cars. However, the Mercedes-Benz Vans unit sold 321,000 vehicles in 2015, according to a company financial statement, with popular models in travel and logistics including the Sprinter, Marco Polo, Vito, known as the Metris in the US, and Citan.
According to a company statement, Mercedes-Benz has invested an undisclosed amount in Matternet. According to SEC filings, Matternet has so far raised $9.5 million of a targeted $11.5 million venture funding round. Raptopolous declined to comment on the filing or the company’s funding status. In back of the van is an inventory storage rack with a path down the middle that looks very much like what you’d expect to see in a standard inventory warehouse. The racks are designed to slide out as a complete array, so that the vans can be stocked quickly just by swapping out the entire interior in one go. A robot arm in the van that packs the drones via a slot in the roof is programmed with the package locations.