Mercedes-Benz Vans and drone tech startup Matternet have created a concept car, or as they’re calling it a Vision Van, that could change the way small packages are delivered across short distances.

The Vision Van’s rooftop serves as a launch and landing pad for Matternet’s new, Matternet M2 drones.

The Matternet M2 drones, which are autonomous, can pick up and carry a package of 4.4 pounds across 12 miles of sky on a single battery charge in real world conditions.

They are designed to reload their payload and swap out batteries without human intervention. They work in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz Vans’ on-board and cloud-based systems so that items within a van are loaded up into the drone, automatically, at the cue of software and with the help of robotic shelving systems within the van.

A self-flying, Matternet 2 drone hoists a package near a shipping container.

A self-flying, Matternet M2 drone hoists a package near a shipping container.

 

Matternet designed a hard-shelled case to protect and carry any given cargo. The drone’s payload can transmit data about the contents and destination of a given delivery.

For a logistics company using the Matternet M2 drones or Vision Vans, that data could serve as a kind of proof of delivery, and alert users the instant a package has arrived.

Andreas Raptopoulos, co-founder and CEO of Matternet explained that while all of this sounds and looks like the stuff of sci-fi, the vans with integrated drone technology could be put to immediate good use where regulations allow.

The Vision Van can, for example, launch a Matternet M2 drone with a payload to a final destination that’s not accessible to a van or driver, whether that’s due to traffic in a populated urban area or a lack of safe roads in a more rural or disaster-stricken area.

Mercedes-Benz Vision Van with a rooftop-integrated Matternet 2 drone.

Mercedes-Benz Vision Van with a rooftop-integrated Matternet M2 drone.

 

Or, the drones could fly a package from a distribution center or warehouse to a van so a driver can ultimately take the package down and walk it up to a customer’s doorstep nearby.

A division of Daimler, Mercedes-Benz may be better known for its luxury and sports cars. However, the Mercedes-Benz Vans unit sold 321,000 vehicles in 2015, according to a company financial statement, with popular models in travel and logistics including the Sprinter, Marco Polo, Vito (known as the Metris in the U.S.) and Citan.

According to a company press statement Mercedes-Benz has invested an undisclosed amount in Matternet. According to SEC filings, Matternet has so far raised $9.5 million of a targeted $11.5 million venture funding round.

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