At CES this year, Mercedes-Benz brought a polished, complete version of their drone delivery van to display, complete with drones nested up on the roof, and a working intelligent front LED display. The van was impressive in person, a Cylon-esque facade hiding a working mobile warehouse within.
Mercedes-Benz and drone startup Matternet unveiled the concept in September, which they refer to as a ‘Vision Van.’ The idea is that Matternet’s autonomous drones pick up packages from the van and then fly them to their destination from the central operating base of the van, which can move around as needed to get the drones within their 12 mile range. The vans autonomously deliver and return, and can change out their own batteries for a fresh charge.
The van on display at CES had a working front LED array, which can display rudimentary images, including animations of pedestrians crossing in front. The information display can also indicate the vehicle’s intended behavior, such as turns, to outside passengers.
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 on each inventory rack before the van starts making its rounds.
It’s definitely an upgrade on the average UPS van you see today, but Mercedes-Benz has no immediate plans to bring it to production. Still, a cool look at one possible future.