Mercedes is making special vans for “free-floating robot fleets” of delivery bots

“Clean your wheels before you get back in!”
“Clean your wheels before you get back in!”
Image: Starship
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We might soon get delivery vans for delivery bots, if a new partnership between robot-maker Starship and Mercedes-Benz has anything to do with it.

The two companies plan to develop Robovan, a Benz van designed to contain eight Starship delivery robots and their intended cargo. The van delivers the bots to an optimal location in a particular neighborhood for delivery, disgorges the robots who make their rounds autonomously, then return to the vehicle. It’s supposed to enable slightly frightening-sounding “free-floating robot fleets,” according to a video by Starship:

The fleet isn’t completely autonomous. The van has a driver, who doubles as a cargo handler for the robots. The system allows 400 packages to be delivered over a nine-hour shift, more than double the amount that’s currently possible without delivery robots, Starship claims. Mercedes is bullish on automated deliveries too. ”With this we are able to increase the efficiency of delivery by an order of magnitude,” Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, said.

Starship’s bots are already delivering food and other parcels commercially in Europe, following its launch in July. It’s working with companies like Just Eat and Hermes to get cargo to customers. Starship says it’s planning field trials with a prototype van, but hasn’t set a date for this.