Mercedes backs a startup to shape the future of delivery drones

The resulting Vision Van concept carries delivery drones around town.

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Mercedes backs a startup to shape the future of delivery drones

Mercedes-Benz probably isn't the first name you associate with delivery drones, but it's committing to those robotic couriers in a big way. The automaker has invested in drone logistics developer Matternet, and the two have worked together on a Vision Van concept (above) that would make delivery drones more practical. The electric vehicle amounts to a last-mile launching pad: drones can grab packages from its "fully automated" cargo space and fly a relatively short distance to complete deliveries that would be impractical (or just slow) for a human courier. And when it would connect everyone from the distribution center to recipients, it would manage deliveries that aren't usually feasible today -- same-day delivery at a specific time, for instance, rather than making a best effort.

You're probably not going to see this van roving around your neighborhood any time soon. Mercedes hasn't said anything about translating it to a production vehicle, which isn't surprising when delivery drone regulation is still nebulous at best. Its 168-mile maximum range is also a limiting factor when courier vans drive many, many miles on any given day. Even so, the Vision Van is promising. It hints at how delivery drones might work in the real world: instead of flying from a central warehouse, where range and time would be limiting factors, they'd only have to fly short hops.

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