Mercedes-Benz Vans is pitching its Vision Urbanetic as the future of human-machine interaction and part of a holistic ecosystem. Shown for the first time in the U.S. at CES 2019 after its debut at the ITS 2018 World Congress in Copenhagen last Fall, the switchable-body concept focuses on needs-based, efficient, comfortable, and sustainable mobility is motivated by battery-electric drive and rides on an autonomous driving platform with people-mover module for passenger transport or cargo module for freight transport.
With the concept, the company aimed to eliminate the separation between people moving and goods transport, looking to satisfy the needs of cities, diverse business sectors, and city dwellers and travelers—reducing traffic congestion, relieving inner-city infrastructure burdens, and contributing to an improved quality of urban life.
Mercedes-Benz Vans is pursuing an ambitious target with concept. It envisages transporting more people and goods with fewer vehicles on a virtually unchanged roads infrastructure in order to relieve inner cities and, at the same time, fulfil continually growing mobility requirements and customer desires. This would ultimately facilitate an improved quality of urban life—with flexible and comfortable movement of people, efficient and sustainable transportation of goods, significantly lower noise and pollutant emissions and greater freedom in city planning.
As a ride-sharing vehicle, the concept can accommodate up to twelve passengers, while the cargo module can carry up to ten EPAL (European Pallet Association) pallets. An impressive load space 3.70 m (12.1 ft) long fits into a short total vehicle length of 5.14 m (16.9 ft).
The vehicle concept’s IT infrastructure analyses the real-time supply and demand within a defined area, and the result is a self-driving fleet with routes planned on the basis of current transportation needs. This can optimize processes and help shorten waiting and delivery times and avoid traffic jams. The system architecture ensures continual route adaptation using real-time traffic information. The operator’s fleet management is also part of the IT system, with usage conceivable in restricted areas such as a factory site or airport as well as in road traffic.
Electric drive delivers zero-local-emissions mobility, making it ideal for city centers and areas subject to legal access restrictions. The virtually noiseless electric drive also presents new options for late or night-time deliveries and thus offers major commercial potential.
As a fully networked vehicle, it is linked to an ecosystem for which commercial and private mobility demands are transmitted digitally, collated, and fulfilled by a fleet with interchangeable body modules that can be switched automatically or manually; the automated process taking just a few minutes. The autonomous platform onto which the body is fixed incorporates all the driving functions, with redundancy baked in for functions such as steering, braking, and acceleration.
The cargo module has a variable load floor that can be divided into two levels for transport of its ten EPAL palettes, with total load volume of 10 m3 (350 ft3). The vehicle can be fitted with a fully automated cargo-management system for use as a mobile package station for last-mile deliveries.
Other use cases are possible as the concept can be equipped with an array of bodies for other sectors and applications.
Mercedes says that operating costs are reduced by fully automated driverless operation and, with the exception of charging times for the battery-electric drive and maintenance periods, each vehicle can be used around the clock. This means that unprofitable local public transport solutions could be commercially viable without a driver, and the concept provides an answer to an ever-increasing challenge in the logistics sector—a lack of drivers. The absence of a driver’s cab—and the steering wheel, pedals, and dashboard—frees up space for additional passengers or a higher goods volume.
To address autonomous-vehicle skepticism, the people-mover body uses multiple cameras and sensor systems to observe its surroundings and communicate actively with occupants. Outside notifications are handled by a large-format display on the front of the vehicle to inform pedestrians crossing the street in front of it that it notices them. Several hundred light units display the contours of approaching individuals along the flanks, another signal to people on its side.