RoboVan: Drones and delivery robots by 2020

By Rob Gill Published

Mercedes | drones


SO, tell me, wee Jimmy, what do you want to do when you grow up? Do you want to be an astronaut?

“No, Miss.”


A brain surgeon?

“No, Miss.”

Cure cancer?

“No, Miss”


“ . . . I’m going to play with FLYING DRONES, ROBOTS and drive an electric van with JOYSTICK controls.”

Now be serious for a minute, wee Jimmy.

“I am, Miss.”

“ . . . I’m going to be a delivery driver. How cool is that.”


This is ROBOVAN — Merc’s “vision” of the van of the future. And it could be with us as soon as 2020.

Those six-wheeled robots are in use NOW, delivering takeaways for JustEat in Greenwich, London.


Drones already carry medicines for UNICEF in Malawi.

And Mercedes is getting ready to launch its second wave of electric vans.


Robovan is an all-electric XXL-sized Sprinter with zero emissions and a range of up to 170 miles.

There’s a robot “picker” in the back that feeds two autonomous drones through roof hatches and the van driver at the dispatch window.


So it can do three deliveries per stop. Plus your robot mice. And no “kerbside time” is wasted re-sorting parcels.

Ze Germans are so efficient.


The drones carry 2kg parcels within a six-mile radius. They fly off, deliver, meet the van at the next stop, reload with a new battery and parcel, and repeat.

The driver has no steering wheel or pedals — just an Atari-like joystick that you push left to turn left, right for right, forward for accelerate and back to brake.


To indicate left, just SAY “turn left”.

The digital dashboard shows all the driving data, satnav and drone status. And there are NO chunky wing mirrors to knock off. Those tiny aero blades, high up on the doors, house rear-view cameras.


But, hang on my European brothers, where do I put my Costa coffee?


MINUS ONE POINT for overlooking cup holders — although there IS still room for the Currant Bun on the dash.


Disco floor lights glow red or green to tell the driver when it is safe to jump out.

Volker Mornhinweg, head honcho at Mercedes-Benz Vans, said: “By 2020, we will be a different company. We will expand beyond the hardware of a van. We will provide last-mile delivery help with drones and robots.


“The van will be the mothership and they will swarm out like bees. More deliveries, less time.

“We are convinced these technologies can increase the efficiency of deliveries by up to 50 per cent.”

Now we’re going to need bus lanes, bicycle lanes, robot lanes and low-fly zones — and pretty sharpish.


Key Facts: ROBOTS

Parcel weight: 10kg

Speed: 4mph

Range: 4miles

Size: 75cm long, 55cm high

Risks: Vandalism. Theft. Or used as ride-on robots.

TRACK the robot like an Uber cab and unlock the lid with a smartphone code. Makers insist there have been no thefts in 8,000 miles of testing in 47 cities. They have two-way audio, GPS and nine stereo vision cameras.


Key Facts: DRONES

Parcel weight: 2kg

Range: 6-mile radius

Speed: 37mph

Flying height: 50-100m

Risks: Being shot down by footballs and bricks. Your Michael Buble calendar will be ruined.

DRONES use LiDAR sensors to avoid obstacles. These bounce infrared light off stuff to create a 3D map it uses to navigate. Tested by health charities in Bhutan and Malawi. Due to be certified by NASA.

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