Photo: Neil Abt/Fleet Owner
The Urbanetic concept can switch between cargo and people-moving compartments in two minutes.

Urbanetic concept brings together autonomous cargo, people transport

Sept. 26, 2018
Daimler unveiled its Urbanetic concept van, as well as advanced emergency braking, as part of its IAA exhibit.

HANOVER, Germany. Why separate freight transportation and the movement of people in crowded cities when it can be combined into one? And why not make that an autonomous and electric vehicle, too?

For Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz Vans division, the way to make that a reality is the Vision Urbanetic, which was a centerpiece of its exhibit hall at the 2018 IAA Commercial Vehicles show. Several other companies at IAA presented a similar message, including “Vera” from Volvo Trucks.

"Concepts like this one will fundamental change the way we experience mobility and transportation in the future,” said Wilfried Porth, director of labor relations for Mercedes-Benz Vans. 

Daimler’s Urbanetic does not have a cab or steering wheel, but does feature interchangeable cargo and people-moving compartments that can be swapped out in about two minutes. Additionally, the information technology system “can optimize processes, shorten waiting or delivery times and avoid traffic jams,” Daimler said. 

It is being developed in cooperation with BASF, which will soon introduce an on-demand ridesharing program at a facility in the German town of Ludwigshafen. Included too is technology from a Mercedes joint venture with ViaVan, a start-up based in the United States. 

The goal is to “make logistics at the Ludwigshafen plant even more efficient as well as more convenient for employees," Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes’ van unit, said in a statement. Mornhinweg was unable to attend IAA due to an illness. 

It remains to be seen if Urbanetic will become a reality. However, Daimler did demonstrate the ability for active safety systems to spot stationary or moving pedestrians - rather than just other vehicles. 

These technologies will be available on the new Mercedes-Benz Actros heavy-duty truck for the European market starting next year. One is Active Brake Assist 5, capable of applying full braking up to about 31 mph when encountering pedestrians crossing in front of the truck.  

Another demo was an enhanced version of side guard assist, which alerts drivers if a bicyclist or pedestrians is in the path during a right-hand turn. Though there is not automatic braking, sensors can immediately alert the driver to take immediate action.

Daimler also introduced “MirrorCam,” which uses cameras to replace mirrors and offers “better all-around visibility,” Buchner said. 

The system will begin to be rolled out on some Actros models next year. Martin Daum, head of Daimler’s commercial vehicles division, said the company is lobbying U.S. regulators to grant permission to remove traditional truck mirrors in order to begin implementing camera-based systems. He noted besides increased safety, it also offers fuel efficiency benefits. 

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