Mercedes-Benz Vans adVANce ; Mercedes-Benz Vans adVANce;

Mercedes-Benz Vans has confirmed it will participate in a number of pilot projects in Europe this year to test the use ground-based, last-mile autonomous delivery robots with robot developer Starship Technologies.

The OEM has been working with UK-based Starship Technologies since mid-2016 and together they introduced the idea of using a van in conjunction with autonomous delivery robots in September last year, using a Sprinter as a prototype mobile loading and transport hub for eight units.

Mercedes-Benz Vans has since become the lead investor in a €16.5m ($17.6m) financing round by Starship Technologies.

“The robot can only travel short distances under its own power and until now has had to return to the warehouse to be reloaded after each delivery,” explained Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans. “The introduction of the van as a mobile hub widens the operational radius of the robots significantly, while also rendering superfluous the cost-intensive construction and operation of decentralised warehouses.

“We see the combination of these two technologies as an opportunity to give our van customers access to some completely new services and business models,” he added. “At the same time, we are making the delivery process much more convenient for the end customer – for example, the concept makes it much easier to deliver goods to the end customer on time.”

Mercedes-Benz Vans has not revealed the details of the pilots but said that following pilot testing, which Starship is also carrying out with other partners, the plan is to be begin “widespread testing of the joint concept with one or several logistics partners”.

The van manufacturer’s involvement in the project has been made as part of its adVANce initiative, which is focused on identifying innovative solutions that address new, quickly changing customer needs. The OEM intends to invest some €500m between now and 2020 under this initiative in the advancement of digitisation, automation and robotics in vans, as well as other innovative mobility offerings.