Mercedes-Benz invests in ‘Robovan’ delivery system

Mercedes-Benz Vans leads in seed funding for Starship Technologies ahead of paired van and robot delivery system pilot

The first prototype, as Sprinter van equipped with eight robots, emerged from a collaboration between Mercedes-Benz Vans and Starship Technologies in September 2016.
The first prototype, as Sprinter van equipped with eight robots, emerged from a collaboration between Mercedes-Benz Vans and Starship Technologies in September 2016.

Mercedes-Benz Vans has invested in Starship Technologies, a start-up developing wheel-based, autonomous delivery robots, becoming the lead investor in a $17.2m round of seed funding.

The investment follows a collaboration between the two companies to develop a ‘Robovan’ concept back in September 2016, with the aim of combining logistics vans with fleets of autonomous delivery robots.

A Sprinter van presented as a prototype serves as a mobile loading and transport hub for eight robots aimed at significantly improving the efficiency of ‘last-mile’ delivery logistics in future.

“Starship is reinventing the last mile transportation process, allowing convenient and sustainable robotic delivery,” said Ahti Heinla, CEO of Starship Technologies.

Instead of completing door-to-door delivery, the vans will drive to pre-agreed locations to load and unload goods and then dispatch the robots in the final step for on-demand delivery. Upon making the customer delivery, the robots will autonomously find their way back to the van for re-loading.

The robots will be loaded with their goods in the ‘Robovan’ using a racking system that Starship claims will enable 400 packages to be delivered in a nine hour shift, compared to 180 packages using previously available methods, an increase of over 120%.

“The introduction of the van as a mobile hub widens the operational radius of the robots significantly, while also rendering superfluous the cost-intensive construction and operation of decentralised warehouses,” said Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans.

As the two companies recently announced at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, initial pilot tests for this combination of van and robot are planned for Europe.

Following pilot testing of the delivery robots, the plan is to begin widespread testing of the joint concept with one or several logistics partners. The launch of the pilot project in a real-world environment is scheduled to take place later this year.

The investment by Mercedes-Benz Vans is part of a strategic initiative named adVANce under the umbrellas of which the company will invest some $532m into digitisation, automation and robotics technologies in vans, as well as other mobility products, through to 2020.

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