It all begins with a product ordered online. Rather than using drones to take packages from a delivery van to the end customer, a new Mercedes-Benz Vans e-commerce project is testing the use of drones to shuttle products from merchant locations scattered throughout a city to a delivery van.
Thus the project addresses the supply chain challenge of centrally warehousing and then distributing products quickly. Cloud-based tracking systems are linked together at the marketplace, merchant and actual distribution levels to coordinate the drone-based delivery. (Image: Mercedes-Benz Vans)
Reporters look on during a demonstation of the Vans and Drones project. Shown on the screen they're watching, a merchant packs an order for coffee that was placed with Siroop.
Notably, the project is limited in that the drones can transport only relatively small items typically one at a time. Will such a use prove cost- and time-effective enough to create an advantage over traditional supply chain methods? (Image: Mercedes-Benz Vans)
Once packed into an outer cargo box, the online order is ready to be transferred to the drone. Within minutes, this order can be on its way to a van on an existing delivery route, potentially shortening the usual supply chain transportation time drastically. (Image: Mercedes-Benz Vans)
The drone is ready for liftoff. It has a maximum flight time of about 35 minutes and can carry packages that fit in its cargo container weighing up to 6.6 lbs./ 3 kg. (Image: Mercedes-Benz Vans)
The drone delivering the package can calculate a rendezvous point for a courier van, taking into account traffic conditions and current routes. This illustration shows those points ("RPs") and their proximity to delivery vans' planned routes. (Image: Mercedes-Benz Vans)
The interconnected system will select a rendezvous point with a delivery van and map the drone to that location. (Image: Mercedes-Benz Vans)
The drone's location and progress — as well as those of the van it's heading toward — are monitored via GPS systems. (Image: Mercedes-Benz Vans)
There are fail-safes built in if something goes wrong, such as if the delivery van moves from the target rendezvous point. The drone can be sent back to its origin or can stop and hover for a time if need be; the Matternet M2 has a maximum flight time of about 35 minutes. If the drone were to lose connectivity, it can deploy a parachute and float safely to the ground. (Image: Mercedes-Benz Vans)
Having arrived at the delivery van in a live demonstration, the drone hovers and then begins its descent to land on the van. (Image: Mercedes-Benz Vans)
Initially with the pilot project, the drones will only be used in favorable weather conditions with sustained winds up to about 18 mph and gusts up to 27 mph. Project representatives stressed that the focus is "safety first" during the live demonstration. (Image: Mercedes-Benz Vans)
Once the drone has landed successfully, the van driver retrieves the package and completes last-mile delivery to the end customer. (Image: Mercedes-Benz Vans)