By Sarah Sloat and Ilka Kopplin. Source: WSJ.
Daimler AG said on Wednesday it would join with U.S. startup Matternet to develop drones for its delivery vans and invest €500 million ($562 million) over the next five years in designing electric, networked vans.
Daimler, the maker of Mercedes-Benz cars and trucks, acquired a minority stake in Menlo Park, Calif.-based Matternet as part of the partnership, a spokeswoman said. Daimler’s overall investment in the initiative, called adVANce, will go to vehicle digitization, automation, robotics and mobility solutions technologies.
“We are looking beyond the vehicle to the whole value chain and the entire environment of our clients,” said van division chief Volker Mornhinweg. The goal is to turn vans into “intelligent, interconnected data centers,” he said.
Just as car manufacturers are pushing into electric vehicles, logistics companies are turning to drones as a way to make parcel delivery faster and more efficient amid increasing urbanization and the growing popularity of e-commerce. Amazon.com Inc., China’s JD.com Inc. and Germany’s Deutsche Post DHL AG tested drone deliveries, even though regulatory hurdles have kept the technology largely grounded.
Daimler said its concept was “unique within the van sector,” but the idea of launching drones from the rooftops of delivery vans is also one the U.S. Postal Service has been considering. Last year when the USPS called for bids to update its fleet, Ohio company Workhorse Group Inc. proposed adding drones to USPS vehicles. A spokesman for Workhorse, which has developed drones that can navigate to a specified delivery point from a vehicle’s roof, said the USPS contract had not yet been decided.
The Stuttgart, Germany-based company previously produced an electric van, called Metris in the U.S., but it is no longer being produced, the spokeswoman said.
The new vans being developed will have a range of up to 270 kilometers (168 miles) on a charge, it said, and include an automated cargo space integrated with delivery drones.
According to Daimler, a drone could deliver light packages within short distances of the vehicle. A drone also could take packages to buildings with appropriate landing pads, while the driver delivers heavier packages to locations a drone couldn’t access, for example.
“If a parcel service provider stops his vehicle in a residential area, it will be possible to deliver multiple packages to nearby consignees autonomously by air—even if they are not at home—in addition to manual delivery,” Daimler said.
Although some of the components that make up Daimler’s concept van are functional, the company declined to say when it might offer such a vehicle.
Daimler van customers include FedEx Corp., Deutsche Post DHL and Germany’s Hermes Group, among others. In the first half of 2016, sales at Daimler’s van division rose 21% to 176,200 vans, while revenues were up 19% at €6.26 billion.