Van and drone combination connects customers and merchants faster

3 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineOctober 2, 2017

Mercedes-Benz Vans, US drone systems developer Matternet and Swiss online marketplace siroop have started a three-week pilot project in Zurich to test an efficient van and drone-based system for on-demand delivery of e-commerce goods.

The pilot project represents a milestone for autonomous aerial systems: it 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 can order selected products from online marketplace siroop that are suitable for transport by drone. Delivery will be made 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 rendezvous points within the city, where the van driver takes possession of the product and delivers it to the customer, while the drone returns to the retailer. 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.

Stefan Maurer, head of future transportation at Mercedes-Benz Vans, says the pilot project provides the ability to test the concept in real-life on-demand deliveries.

“We want to gain valuable insights for this and further concepts enabled through van and drone technology. Validating our concept together with customers and project partners in an early phase will greatly advance the development. We are demonstrating what a practical system comprising drones and vans may look like.”

The drones used in the pilot can carry packages of up to two kilograms over distances of up to 20 kilometres.

Andreas Raptopoulos, founder and CEO of Matternet believes that drone-enabled logistics networks will transform how customers access goods and pave the way toward extensive use of the systems.

Safety is the guiding principle during the pilot, 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.

A video is available online at: