Mercedes-Benz Vans, US drone systems developer Matternet and Swiss online marketplace Siroop have started a pilot project in Zurich, Switzerland,
to test a van-and-drone-based system for on-demand delivery of e-commerce goods.
The pilot project is the first time that extensive beyond-line-of sight drone operations, with the use of vans as landing platforms, are taking place in a
major urban area to test a fully automated e-commerce drone network.
During the course of the pilot project, customers will be able to order selected products from online marketplace Siroop that are suitable for transport by a Matternet drone, such as consumer electronics and other e-commerce items weighing up to two kilograms.
The Matternet M2 drones can cover distances of up to 20 km.
Delivery will be made on the same day.
The drones are loaded directly at the merchant and fly to one of two Mercedes-Benz Vito vans equipped with a precision landing technology.
The van stops at one of four pre-defined points, called rendezvous points, within the city of Zurich, where the van driver takes possession of the product and delivers it to the customer, while the drone returns to the retailer.
As drones land on the roof of a Vito van, about two meters above ground, the safety of passers-by is ensured.
The entire logistics chain from order receipt to delivery to the customer will be timed and compared against conventional delivery methods to gain insights into the efficiency of the solution.
The goal of the project is to significantly improve the time and service level associated with on-demand delivery, and consequently create added value for retailers and consumers.
The operation has been authorized by the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation, following the Specific Operations Risk Assessment methodology developed by the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems, and was approved by all relevant Swiss air and ground authorities.
Safety is the guiding principle during the project, which will run for seven hours per day, five days a week, in favourable weather conditions only.
Matternet drones are integrated in the Swiss airspace system using the same sense and avoid system used by helicopter operators and other users of the lower part of the airspace, and are equipped with a parachute system that is automatically deployed in case of a malfunction.
The Vans & Drones project was first presented by Mercedes-Benz Vans and Matternet in September last year.
The pilot project in Zurich, with Siroop as the first system user, is the next step in the advancement of the concept.
Mercedes-Benz believes using vans as intelligent, mobile landing stations for Matternet drones offers several advantages, including reduced overall delivery cycle and cost compared with existing courier service operations as packages are delivered faster, irrespective of traffic in urban areas.
Also, the integration of drone systems into the logistics chain requires no change in customer behaviour, as customers will still receive their packages from a van driver in the same way they receive it today.
The delivery system also gives retailers and logistics companies the ability to provide customers a true on-demand delivery solution, without the need for
And, it allows companies with van fleets to further leverage them and add on-demand services.
“We have the great opportunity here to conduct the most extensive testing in an urban environment to date. Validating our concept together with customers and project partners in an early phase will greatly advance the development,” says Mercedes-Benz Vans future transportation head Stefan Maurer.
“We are demonstrating what a practical system comprising drones and vans may look like.”
“We believe that drone-enabled logistics networks will transform how we access goods every day – we will be able to order something online, and like magic, receive it within minutes, for a fraction of the cost and energy expended today,” notes Matternet founder and CEO Andreas Raptopoulos.
“We hope that this pilot will give us greater understanding of how the public perceives a drone-enabled solution for e-commerce today and pave the way toward extensive use of these systems.”