Drones for the Last Mile

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Mercedes-Benz Vans is systematically making use of present-day and future technological opportunities presented by digitalisation, automation and robotics. The business division is developing from a mere vehicle manufacturer into a provider of system solutions and will offer integrated and intelligent systems in addition to its basic vehicles in the future.

These solutions can make the transportation of goods and passengers even more efficient and open up new business opportunities and economic benefits for customers.

Says Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, “We are focusing our attention beyond the vehicle to the entire value chain and business environment of our customers. We provide transport solutions for the digital age and evolve the van into an intelligent, interconnected data centre on wheels.

“In order to do this, we are investing around half a billion euros over the next five years, and have created a separate organisational unit. So far, this approach is unique within the van sector.”

Given the burgeoning business in food and everyday necessities ordered online, demand for same-day delivery or delivery within an hour is increasing rapidly.

Mercedes-Benz Vans all-electric vehicle combines various innovative solutions for last-mile delivery in urban and suburban environments. It is the first van worldwide to fully digitally connect all people and processes involved, from the distribution centre to the consignee.

Emission-free

Furthermore, it is the first van ever to feature a fully automated cargo space and integrated delivery drones. For example, if a parcel service provider stops his vehicle in a residential area, it will be possible to deliver multiple packages to nearby consignees autonomously by air – even if they are not at home – in addition to manual delivery.

This makes the deliverer’s job easier, reduces the delivery time and offers end customers new opportunities such as same-day delivery at an agreed time. Mercedes-Benz Vans envisages deployment of the Vision Van boosting efficiency by up to 50 percent on the last mile. The vehicle is equipped with a 75kW electric drive and, depending on the intended application, has a range of 80km to approximately 270km. With the Vision Van, deliveries are emission-free.

Three key fields of innovation

As part of the strategic future initiative, Mercedes-Benz Vans will be focusing on three fields of innovation: the first involves incorporating the van into the Internet of Things.

One example is developing a telematics unit for vans which collects and processes data concerning the status of the delivery tour, the present location and the load, and sends this information to the distribution manager. In this way it is possible to monitor and manage last-minute changes within the fleet efficiently from a central point.

Another application concentrates on the efficient part and tool management for service vehicles, for example tradespersons’ mobile workshops. In future new holistic system solutions will enable parts to be ordered in a fully automated way by means of an intelligent inventory management within the vehicle, as well as for the relevant parts to be placed overnight directly into the van.

Intermediate steps such as inventory evaluation, ordering parts manually and the tradesperson having to equip the vehicle, are no longer necessary.

Automated cargo space systems

The second focal point is on innovative hardware-based solutions for the transportation industry (solutions@vans). Here Mercedes-Benz Vans is working on automated cargo space systems for delivery vehicles for parcel services, for example. Until now, deliverers need to rearrange their packages (on average around 180 per load) ten times while making deliveries within a residential area and schedule approximately three to four minutes per stop.

New, interconnected cargo space systems make loading and unloading much faster, thereby increasing process efficiency. One-shot loading (loading the vehicle with all pre-picked parcels in one go) cuts loading times considerably and reduces the amount of vehicle downtime at distribution centres.

When the deliverer is unloading, the system will show him or her the exact load configuration and make the right package available at the right time for delivery depending on the delivery destination. The team also has the integration of autonomous delivery systems such as drones or self-driving robots in mind.

Ridesharing concepts

The third field in conjunction with various cooperation partners is new mobility concepts for the on-demand transportation of goods and people (mobility@vans). In future these intelligent mobility concepts could supplement public transit by making fast, efficient and individual transport of passengers possible during peak and off-peak hours via ridesharing concepts.

In the future, the intelligent networking of technologies can also make the transportation of goods more efficient and considerably improve transport on the last mile. In this pioneering field Mercedes-Benz Vans is also working on innovative leasing, rental and sharing models, which are completely tailored to the needs of van customers.

Innovative start-ups

In order to make new approaches market-ready, the company is investing in several innovative start-ups in the areas of automation, robotics and mobility services as a first step.

One of these companies is Matternet, a US-based developer of autonomous drone logistics systems. Together with Matternet, Mercedes-Benz Vans worked on the Vision Van show car, the first integrated delivery system that automates last-mile delivery. The new system, which combines van and drone logistics, is a more efficient, faster and a more economical way for people to receive goods on-demand.

Mercedes Benz, Sibusiso Mkwanazi

Tel: (012) 673-6864

Email: sibusiso.mkwanazi@daimler.com

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