Vans & Drones – in the city of the future

The future of transport: the company Matternet and Mercedes-Benz Vans are developing logistics solutions for the city of the future as part of the cooperation project Vans & Drones.

Logistic challenges of the future

The irony of merchandise logistics can be summed up quite easily: the shorter the distance, the more difficult it is to deliver on time, explains Oliver Evans, Head of Global Business Development at Matternet. The California-based company specializes in drone technology – more precisely, in the logistics sector. For transport from continent to continent, everything can be planned well. But on the last section, from the distribution center to the customer, there are unforeseen obstacles and delays. The difficulty is that the tendency is to offer customers even more flexible deliveries of goods. And by using mobile devices, access to goods in the future is just as easy to access as information.

Current pilot phase in Zurich

The cooperation between Vans & Drones, which has been in existence between Matternet and Mercedes-Benz Vans since 2015, responds to the upheavals in logistics by testing a solution for flexible deliveries. In the current pilot project phase, the combination of vans and drones is tested under real conditions in Zurich.

Here is an example: while the van driver is already in the inner city with his delivery vehicle, a last minute order can be submitted via drone. The drone and the van meet at rendez-vous points. If the van moves to another point, the route is recalculated. The advantage is that the drone can take the direct route by going over traffic jams, rivers and other obstacles, and the van does not have to leave its originally planned route. The van scans the airspace and transmits infrared signals so that the drone can land autonomously and safely. The driver of the van then takes delivery of the package for the last few meters, called in the logistics sector “Last Mile Delivery”.

A drone landing on the roof of a Mercedes-Benz Vito

Design is important, safety is more important

The Matternet M2 has been specially designed for use near people and buildings. The special feature: with the help of Matternet cloud software, it flies completely independently on previously defined routes. Without a pilot or camera – an important point, because in the city the topic of surveillance is seen critically. At the same time, Oliver Evans reported that the essential elements of the drone are often installed twice. Should a component fail, the spare part assumes its task. In an absolute emergency the drone is caught by an integrated parachute and accompanied by an alarm signal to the ground.

Efficient logistics through combination

Due to its special design, the Matternet M2 can both deliver and take goods. Packets weighing up to two kilograms are transported over a distance of up to 20 kilometers. Depending on the load, the drone technology reaches its (battery) limits, so combining with a van is a promising solution. In the future delivery by van and drone should complement the conventional means of transport, not replace it. By selecting the most efficient transport solution depending on the task and use, emissions are saved, traffic congestion is reduced and deliveries are accelerated – despite the ongoing urbanization and the resulting increase in order numbers.

Photos: Felix Schwarz

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