The latest company leaping into the delivery-by-drone business has long been known for performance vehicles of an entirely different sort.
Mercedes-Benz earlier this month revealed a concept car that can automatically deploy delivery drones, developed in partnership with drone-delivery startup Matternet, in which Mercedes announced what it labeled a multimillion-dollar investment. A Wall Street Journal report valued the investment at $562.7 million.
Called the Vision Van, the concept car itself, should it ultimately reach market, would require a human driver — but the vehicle’s drone is foreseen executing deliveries at the same time as the driver conducts others. It might also provide a measure of relief from such longstanding delivery impediments as dangerous and overcrowded roadways, though at least in the U.S., Federal Aviation Administration rules currently stipulate that drones cannot fly beyond an operator’s line of sight without a waiver.
To execute a delivery via drone, a mechanism inside the cargo portion of the van would pick out a package slated for delivery and, after sending it through an opening in the roof, load it onto a drone. Software tied into Matternet’s cloud system would then put the drone on a delivery route and employ GPS to guide it back to the vehicle afterward. Matternet-designed technology can automatically swap out batteries on the drone and allow for the drone to land on a precise spot on the roof of the van.
According to Andreas Raptopoulos, co-founder and CEO of Matternet, dramatic reductions in the time and cost of on-demand delivery would result.
The Vision Van looks to solve two issues faced by delivery drones: payload and travel distance. A drone holds up to 4.4 pounds of cargo, so a drone traveling far away from the central shipping warehouse would have to spend a lot of time in the air for relatively few deliveries. The Vision Van is foreseen serving as a sort of shipping warehouse on wheels, with Matternet’s drones able to travel about 12 miles.