For smaller deliveries, packages could be delivered to a location of the customer's choice, using lockers that open to a code sent to a smartphone, for instance. A customer could also drop off his dry-cleaning to a Robo Pod, then pick it up at a set location from another pod later in the day. More valuable goods could be hand-delivered by a concierge.
Daily deliveries could be made from a large wholesale market to a florist in the city or as home grocery deliveries. Companies using the system could customize the vehicles in its colors or change the configuration depending on whether they're picking up supplies or delivering the final goods to consumers. It could also be used to make daily deliveries to residential or commercial hubs.
Finally, the Leader or Robo Pods could be adapted for jobs other than deliveries. They could function as food, coffee or automatic vending trucks, either with or without someone to serve up the goods. Renault showed off this idea with a pod with equipment from coffee company Jofi, transforming it into a sort of Starbucks on wheels.
On top of the social responsibility (and marketing) angle, Renault has some pretty solid reasons to get a jump on the autonomous delivery market. It's the top manufacturer of electric utility vehicles in Europe and no doubt wants to keep that position. The company notes that 78 percent of folks will be living in cities in Europe by 2030, with deliveries expected to grow by 20 percent, and a whopping 125 percent in China. Costs for the last-mile delivery of a package amount to 35 to 50 percent, and totaled $86 billion around the globe last year.
So it's thinking ahead to get a jump on the market, though autonomous deliveries are, despite the hype train, still a long ways off. Renault also fancies itself as a car manufacturer for everyone and not just the rich, so projects like EZ-GO and EZ-PRO are a way to flaunt its social bonafides.
"We want to provide an easy life for customers and that also applies to utility vehicles," said van den Acker. "It's a logical extension of our activities because we've been leaders in utility vehicles for more than 100 years. We want to be at the forefront of urban mobility, and we are already everywhere, so we will make sure to have a good solution."
Toyota created a blueprint for multi-use autonomous delivery vehicles with the e-Palette. Unlike Renault, it essentially married the delivery and transit ideas into one vehicle. That way, they can be used not just for parcel deliveries but also mass transit and even temporary accommodation. It also partnered with various firms, including Amazon, Uber, Mazda and Pizza Hut to show what the concept could do.
Mercedes, meanwhile, has a single platform with swappable consoles for ridesharing, a shuttle bus, cargo and other chores. All you need to do is swap out the modules, and hey presto, you have an autonomous van or delivery cube.
Renault has a lot of the same ideas but has split it into two separate vehicles. By doing so, it was able to make the EZ-PRO more business and delivery specific, with the idea of a concierge and multiple vehicles running together in a platoon configuration. The company will reportedly be launching a third EZ-class vehicle soon, one that's more about personal luxury transportation.
If these concepts are ever to be commercialized, first automakers will have to nail down at least level 4 autonomy -- and the closer we get to that goal, the farther away it seems. For now, however, Renault, like Toyota, Mercedes and other automakers, has shown how concepts can be more than cool designs and raw horsepower. Rather, they can represent a company's complete vision of the future and generate discussion around ideas like autonomous city transportation. In that sense, the EZ-PRO is already a success.