When it comes to making the concept of delivery drones a reality, using vans to handle the brunt of the work is an idea that has some merit. We saw some researchers float the idea a couple of years ago and it now appears Mercedes-Benz also sees some potential in the approach. It has teamed up with drone company Matternet to create a concept vehicle dubbed the Vision Van which would deploy drones from its rooftop to carry packages over the final leg of their journey.
Matternet has been in the drone delivery game for a little while now. Its cargo-carrying aircraft have been used in trials by Swiss Post and also by UNICEF to deliver HIV tests and results to remote regions in Africa. Its partnership with Mercedes-Benz also brings a multi-million dollar investment from the German carmaker, and coincides with the announcement of its second generation drone, the Matternet M2.
The M2 quadcopter is completely autonomous, can carry cargo weighing up to 2 kg (4.4 lb) and fly up to 20 km (12 mi) on a single charge. It also has the ability to drop and pickup both packages and fresh batteries autonomously and carries its payload inside a box that transmits data about the contents and destination.
The Vision Van's cargo management system is fully automated, beginning with a robotic system that loads entire racks into the vehicle in the warehouse. Then as the van approaches a drop-off point, the system pops the package out through a window into the cabin area so the driver can manually deliver it to the customer. At the same time, the system can load up to two M2 drones with packages for aerial deliveries within a distance 10 km (6.2 mi).
Among the other notable features of the Vision Van concept is the eschewing of a steering wheel, pedals, and centre console in favor of a single joystick for drive-by-wire control and a 75 kW electric drive system for a 270 km (168 mi) range.
The fact that this is just a concept vehicle aside, its unlikely we'll see the Vision Van hit the road anytime soon. While lawmakers are working to usher in applications like drone deliveries in residential areas, they currently remain illegal in most parts of the world. Nonetheless, getting more big names involved in the idea won't do this progress any harm.