Vans & Robots - Small delivery robots out of Sprinter

by Emily Morgan Van

Vans & Robots - Small delivery robots out of Sprinter

Rendezvous with the delivery robot.

Lunch break at Daimler’s main plant in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim: Workers streaming from all directions make their way to the canteen in Building 128. Those who already had their fill enjoy the sun outdoors over a chat with colleagues. Or they relax on one of the modern seats in the forecourt. It is the usual lunchtime scene here, weather permitting. But today a stranger is moving through the crowd: 6D63 confidently mounts the kerb, politely lets a group of pedestrians pass and then rolls straight for the stairs on the side of the building. He has a “rendezvous” there, with Jasmin Hagg.

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R2-D2 is history, the future belongs to 6D63.

The marketing intern at Mercedes-Benz Vans is one of the test customers of 6D63, the delivery robot of Starship Technologies. Just a few minutes ago she got informed via smartphone that her order is about to be delivered. Walking down the stairs, Jasmin Hagg spots the six-wheeled vehicle with the cute proportions waiting exactly at the location her smartphone is showing her. She unlocks the vehicle’s cargo space using a smartphone app, removes the package and hurries back to her workplace.

A gigantic gain in efficiency.

6D63 meanwhile makes his own way back to the “mother ship”, a Sprinter designed to hold a range of packages and up to eight delivery robots. What Mercedes-Benz Vans is trialling here on the company’s own premises in Untertürkheim as part of the “Robotic Delivery Systems” project could soon become reality for parcel delivery services: At the beginning of the shift, a Sprinter drives to its target area. Having arrived at the location, the delivery man no longer delivers the parcels one by one.

Instead, eight customers, who have previously agreed to a just-in-time delivery, receive simultaneous deliveries by the robots. This represents an enormous boost in terms of efficiency. In the meantime the delivery man handles the more difficult jobs involving unwieldy packages or already prepares for his next stop.

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Innovative shelving system in the Sprinter.

As part of the „Robotic Delivery Systems“ project, transporters and delivery robots interact with each other intelligently at both the software and hardware level. On board of the Sprinter, the lower deck is the reserved „parking space“ for the robots. The upper deck accommodates the cargo hold for the parcels. What’s more, the Sprinter always knows where all his delivery robots are at any time.

Driving the change with Starship Technologies.

The robots themselves navigate using GPS and numerous cameras. The vehicle constantly checks its surroundings to ensure that its autonomous locomotion is safe. Starship Technologies has already successful tested its robots in the UK, in Switzerland and in Germany, for example with the parcel delivery company Hermes and the electrical appliance retailer Saturn. The next step: Connecting the robots with a transporter as a “mobile hub”.

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Two legends of the start-up scene.

Mercedes-Benz Vans and the Sprinter are the first to rise to this challenge. Interdisciplinary teams work on innovations, making use of the opportunities a networked and digitised world can offer. This way, the Van becomes an integrated solution for the transportation of goods and people. That is also the kind of thinking that drives the two Starship founders. The Dane Janus Friis and the Estonian Ahti Heinla are popular in the start-up scene: They were involved in the development of the communications service Skype and the file sharing platform KaZaA. In 2014, the two went on to establish Starship Technologies, aiming nothing less than revolutionizing last-mile delivery.

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Small robots, great future.

“I am certain that the use of robots will result in some significant changes”, says Athi Heinla. “Ships will navigate in automatic mode, trucks will drive autonomously and delivery robots will become part of everyday life on our streets. It is not going to happen overnight, but more quickly than many people think.”

Soon Sprinter and robots will also deliver normal parcels containing shoes, clothes or books on public roads. The simultaneous delivery via robots out of the Sprinter – a system solution of Mercedes-Benz Vans that is going to make parcel delivery services sit up and take note.

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