Daimler Drone Takes Off – and Lands Again – Marking First for Package Delivery Service

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by on Nov.28, 2017

Daimler's used a drone to complete 100 deliveries recently in Switzerland.

These days, drones have become a common sight, frequently used by police and rescue squads, filmmakers, the military and, of course, by amateur “pilots.” But Daimler AG is claiming a potentially historic first that could yield one of the most significant breakthroughs for jointly commercializing both drones and autonomous vehicles.

The German automaker said it used specially outfitted drones to make about 100 delivery runs to satisfy e-commerce orders in the city of Zurich, Switzerland. The drones took off and then returned to specially designed landing platforms built into the roofs of two Mercedes-Benz Vito vans.

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“We are convinced that the project will evolve rapidly,” said Stefan Maurer, head of Future Transportation at Mercedes-Benz Vans. “We see great potential for our solution and intend to expand it to include further areas of application.”

Daimler, along with partners Matternet, a drone start-up, and Swiss online retailer siroop.ch, aren’t the only ones looking at ways to use drones for retail delivery services. The big dog is Amazon which has been experimenting with the idea of using the unmanned aerial devices to rush goods from its warehouses to consumers rather than having to rely on traditional delivery services.

(Skip the tip: Dominos, Ford test driverless delivery cars. For the story, Click Here.)

Dubai has cleared the way for the first autonomous drones to be used by people.

Meanwhile, ground-bases companies, such as FedEx and UPS, are looking for ways to both cut costs and improve their own services. One approach is to switch from manned delivery trucks to fully driverless vehicles. Daimler, Ford and several other manufacturers plan to launch their first driverless models by as early as 2021.

But these delivery alternatives each have critical weaknesses. For drones, there’s the question of range, among other things. And considering the amount of goods online retailers such as Amazon are shipping each day, the skies could quickly become over-crowded, especially if the drones all had to return to a regional warehouse to pick up a fresh load of goods.

With driverless delivery vehicles there’s what is known as the “last 100 feet challenge.” It’s one thing to pull up in front of a home or business, but that doesn’t actually get goods directly into the hands of a customer.

(Click Here for details about Amazon’s drones and autonomous vehicle programs.)

One proposed solution is to give customers a code that would allow them to walk out and pickup packages from the vehicle. Domino’s recently tried that approach during a pilot program, using autonomous Ford Fusion sedans to deliver pizzas to a select group of customers in Ann Arbor, Michigan. But that approach isn’t expected to fly with customers, particularly during the sort of bad weather found during a Michigan winter.

By adding drones to a driverless vehicle, Daimler and its partners believe they can solve the 100-foot challenge, at least by getting packages right up to a home or business’s front door.

In all, the two vans, each equipped with a single drone, made 100 deliveries during a two-week period. The partners are now looking at where they will go next.

(To see more about drones and their uses for mobility, Click Here.)

“We are extremely satisfied with the results of the pilot project in Switzerland,” said Mauer. “The aim was to test the technology and the concept in real-world conditions and find out where optimization was required. We also wanted to know how people would react to this new form of transportation.”

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