Drone delivery may be closer than you think: Daimler's Mercedes-Benz Vans teamed up with e-commerce startup siroop, and drone logistics provider Matternet to kick off a pilot in Zurich of its van-based drone delivery concept. The partners demonstrated a delivery live to an audience of media today, showing a coffee delivery from a small Swiss merchant using siroop's platform.
The system works pretty much like how you'd expect any third-party ordering platform to operate, with the merchant employee entering the order details and passing that on to Matternet. That means the drone knows the location of the pick-up and the drop-off, and then a Matternet employee loads up the drone (though this will be automated by robotics in future, Matternet says).
The drone reads the destination information using a QR code on the package, so it knows where to go. Then it'll fly the goods to the receiver directly, with a top speed of up to 70 km/h (around 43 mph) for up to 20 km (or over 12 miles). It can carry a payload of around 4.4 lbs, too, which is a fair amount of small goods.
For this demonstration, the drone flew at about 260 ft in the air, and is designed to operate in this band for safety purposes. It flies consistently at this height all the way to the destination, and then it descends to land on the roof of a Mercedes-Benz van, which emits a signal to guide it in precisely and take over from GPS, which alone has a larger margin of error.
The van driver then retrieves the package and delivers it to the receiver's door – in this case coffee, provided to a siroop rep. They were sure to open the package to show that no sleight of hand occurred along the way. You can watch the full event and delivery live stream (recorded earlier today) below.
Eventually, Mercedes-Benz hopes to deploy delivery services like this globally, but a lot will depend on information gathered from its pilot around effective and safe use of the tech, as well as securing buy-in from partners and regulators.