Mercedes-Benz Vans (MB Vans) has expanded its goal of automated driving to also include automated delivery.
The German manufacturer has announced that it is now the lead investor in Starship Technologies, a start-up company for the development of ground-based, autonomous delivery robots.
The two companies already introduced the so-called ‘mothership’ concept in September last year.
This concept allows for a Sprinter van to serve as a mobile loading and transport hub for eight robots. This concept combines the advantages of a van with those of an autonomous delivery robot.
MB Vans believes delivery robots will be able to “significantly improve the efficiency of last-mile delivery logistics in future”.
The robot can only travel short distances under its own power and – without the van as hub – has to return to the warehouse to be reloaded after each delivery, explains MB Vans head Volker Mornhinweg.
However, the introduction of the van as a mobile hub widens the operational radius of the robots significantly, while reducing the demand for warehouse infrastructure.
“We see the combination of these two technologies as an opportunity to give our van customers access to some completely new services and business models,” says Mornhinweg.
“At the same time, we make the delivery process much more convenient for the end customer.”
The aim is to develop the concept of the mothership systematically over the coming months.
Initial pilot tests for the van-and-robot combination are planned for Europe.
Following pilot testing of the delivery robots, which continues to be undertaking by Starship Technologies and a host of other partners, the plan is to begin widespread testing of the joint concept with one or several logistics partners.
The launch of the pilot project in a real-world environment is scheduled to take place later this year.
MB Vans says it will invest some 500-million euros in digitisation, automation and robotics until 2020.
Starship Technologies says its fleet of autonomous robots is designed to deliver goods in 15 to 30 minutes within a 3 to 5 km radius.
The robots drive autonomously, but are monitored by humans who can take over control at any time.
Launched in July 2014 by two Skype co-founders, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, Starship says it is “changing the way parcels, groceries and food are delivered”.