Mercedes-Benz is investing $562 million over five years in new concepts aimed at speeding delivery time for online orders — concepts that include a new line of electric delivery vans with roof-mounted automated flying drones designed to carry small packages to their final destination — Bloomberg reports.
Speaking this week at a presentation in Stuttgart, Germany, Mercedes-Benz executives said each delivery van would incorporate two drones, each capable of carrying packages weighing up to 4.4 pounds for a distance of up to about six miles. They would be dispatched most often as a van closes in on a delivery point that otherwise would be hard to reach.
The small drones, the product of a joint development between the automaker and Silicon Valley-based Matternet, are one component of a suite of on-board systems additionally including digital sorting equipment in the van that could help cut costs and delivery times.
“The business in our sector is changing dramatically, so we’re looking far beyond our core product and getting into new markets," said Volker Mornhinweg, who heads Mercedes’ vans business. "We want to make vans an intelligent, connected data center on wheels.”
Even though it's a canned statement, it's a fairly eloquent and accurate way of describing what companies like Mercedes-Benz, DHL, Amazon, UPS, FedEx and others are trying to do: Build a more intelligent and efficient logistics and fulfillment chain from beginning to end — or from the distribution center to the delivery point.
Mercedes parent Daimler has been particularly aggressive of late as it looks to bring innovations to the last chapter of the delivery journey. The company paired with DHL in a test of delivering packages to smart car trunks, and also invested in digital mapping company HERE with fellow automakers. Mercedes-Benz's investment plan makes a lot of sense in this context.
But can using small drones to cover the last few miles or so to a delivery point really make a difference? If they can carry packages to destinations that otherwise would take more time to reach, and if using drones to cover these route portions enables van drivers to tend to other deliveries at the same time, then yes. It's an over-simplification, but in the delivery business, time is money.