AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES: Autonomy for the city

Date: Wednesday, October 17, 2018   |   Author: James Dallas

Mercedes-Benz and Renault have revealed their visions for last-mile urban deliveries. James Dallas takes a look into the future.

Vision Urbanetic from Mercedes

With electric vans slowly but surely becoming established in the marketplace as more manufacturers become convinced of the viable business case for them and join the fray – perhaps for fear of being left behind  – the next frontier to be conquered is the creation of autonomous LCVs that can offer a workable solution to the challenges posed to operators by the cities of the future.

Mercedes-Benz and Renault have positioned themselves at the cutting edge of EV technology and both brands have now revealed concepts of battery-powered autonomous vans.

As the urban population continues to grow apace – with the United Nations predicting there will be 5.2 billion people living in cities by 2030, equating to 60% of the global population – the challenge is to serve more people with fewer vehicles, producing less congestion and zero emissions.

We were invited to the world premiere of Mercedes’ autonomous concept vehicle ‘Vision Urbanetic’ in Copenhagen in September.

Volker Morhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, explained the hurdle to be overcome: “The cities of the future will be several times bigger, but above all they will be more densely populated than they are today.

“For our customers, this growth means they will have to deal with a far higher level of transportation needs, of people and, of course, of goods. At the same time we want to achieve greater quality of urban life, which includes less traffic, less noise and zero emissions.”

With urban infrastructure already becoming overloaded, the brand’s answer lies in producing a concept that makes use of interchangeable body modules mounted onto a single ‘skateboard’ platform, which enable it to carry people during the day and to transport goods at night.

“In the city of the future, an autonomous van brings someone to the office in the morning and the same van delivers his groceries in the evening,” said Morhinweg.

He added that Mercedes aims to introduce autonomous vans in three stages: “Starting with restricted zones, such as factory sites or airports; secondly, on fixed routes, such as deliveries or urban public transportation; and finally, on unrestricted routes, such as courier runs, as mobile packing stations or on-demand ride-sharing.”

According to Morhinweg, in the transport of goods a self-driving van could become a logistics hub, while robots or drones complete the delivery to the customer’s door.

Only time will tell whether this vision becomes a reality or remains pie in the sky.

Renault’s autonomous concept is similar to that of Mercedes in that it imagines a base upon which versatile ‘Robo Pods’ can be placed to fulfil a wide range of functions.

Having already unveiled its Ez Go passenger-carrying concept it has now added the Ez Pro goods- and service-carrying version.

Renault plans to establish “user-friendly digital channels” to allow customers to manage their parcel deliveries via, for example, their smartphones.


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