Vans & Drones Help from above

Daimler leaves the usual route – the street – and discovers air travel for itself: Mercedes-Benz Vans participate in the development of drone as transportation tool with the project “Vans & Drones”.

The van as a mobile mailbox

A drone as a tool can be used in diverse situations. For example on a construction site, a particular tool part has developed a fault, in the future no construction site worker needs to drive to the nearest retailer: He orders the missing part by app and the part is swiftly flown in by air – a drone carrying the order flies to the built-in landing site on the van's roof and delivers its cargo, allowing work on the construction site to resume quickly. The van is transformed in this way into a mobile mailbox. Another example would be an accident on the highway that has led to a long tailback. The medic needs supplies of a particular blood group to treat one of the injured. The breakdown service needs a specific part to tow the car away. The road is blocked, but the route in by air is clear.

Since early in the summer of 2015 the company's Future Transportation Systems (FTS) unit has been working together with Matternet, a transport drone startup from Silicon Valley, on the concept's actual implementation. The Vito is the first ever production vehicle to be designed as a mobile receiving station and landing site for drones.

Safe, autonomous landing of the drone is confirmed using an app.

This involves using an application to link up an independent system, in which drones are deployed as a means of transport, with the van. The drone locates the van via GPS. The van scans the airspace and transmits a light signal to ensure safe delivery. Only then does the drone land on the van's roof fully autonomously with the help of an infrared landing guidance beam. The idea of using the van as a landing site is as unusual as it is ingenious. After all, drones are never held up by tailbacks or busy urban traffic. They are fast and efficient and do not produce any emissions. The direct air route is usually shorter than the land route – an unbeatable advantage, especially when something is needed fast.

Connectivity is the big buzzword

Safety, quality and economic sustainability are all key factors affecting the pace of development of the "Vans & Drones" project. Mercedes-Benz Vans and Matternet are in close contact and are finalizing the next steps to take.

Andreas Raptopoulos (left), founding member and CEO of Matternet, and Thomas Wurdig, Mercedes-Benz Vans Future Transportation Systems, are working together on the "Vans & Drones" project.

“We can only learn from experience, and this is precisely what we are currently gathering in Germany and California,” said Thomas Wurdig from the Future Transportation team and continues, “Now, it is our task to show the opportunities of the connection of these technologies for us and for our customers. Thus, we can also support the political and regulatory processes and contribute to creating a framework that will make drone deliveries possible and safe in the future."

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