Vans, drones and e-commerce take flight

Vans, drones and e-commerce take flight

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

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 three-week pilot project, customers will be able to order selected products – such as consumer electronics and other e-commerce items weighing up to two kilograms – from online marketplace Siroop. The products need to be suitable for transport by a Matternet drone over a distance of up to 20 km.

The drones are loaded directly at the merchant and fly to one of two prototype Mercedes-Benz Vito vans equipped with precision landing technology.

The van will stop at one of four pre-defined points, called “rendezvous points”, within the city of Zurich. The van driver will then takes possession of the product and deliver it to the customer, while the drone returns to the retailer.

The entire process – 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, creating added value for retailers and consumers.

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. The drones are equipped with a parachute system that is automatically deployed in case of a malfunction.

The pilot project is the first step in a process which has a clear target vision: van fleets dynamically synchronised with drone fleets for efficient on-demand delivery with a low-energy footprint and an impact on congestion.

Eventually, drone deliveries will be dynamically integrated into conventional delivery routes. In this scenario, vans will not be required to drive to a small number of fixed “rendezvous points” to receive a drone.

Instead, they will be supplied by a drone along their regular routes at suitable stopping points. This will allow for urgent shipments to be integrated into existing delivery runs and for faster delivery to the consumer.

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