Imagine: Your smartphone is broken and you urgently need a new one. You don’t have time to go to the shops, and delivery usually takes at least a day. One possible solution in the future will be an innovative new delivery concept – Vans & Drones.

The concept is currently being investigated in detail and trialled in Zurich. Mercedes-Benz Vans is testing the first fully automated e-commerce drone system under real conditions in the city for three weeks, in partnership with Matternet, the leading developer of drone logistics systems in Silicon Valley, and siroop, a Swiss online marketplace. The aim is to improve the efficiency and level of service for on-demand deliveries while also adding value for retailers and end customers and reducing traffic. The Vans & Drones concept, which the pilot project is being carried out as part of, was presented back in September 2016. The test phase in Zurich, with siroop as the system’s first user, is the next stage in the development of the concept.

And what exactly does the pilot project involve? siroop customers can order selected products that weigh two kilos or less and are therefore suitable for delivery by drone. The range of products that can be delivered in this way includes coffee and electronics, for example. The retailer loads the drones at their own premises as soon as the orders are received. The drones then fly to one of two Mercedes-Benz Vito vans with drone landing platforms that are being used in the project. The vans stop at one of a total of four specific “rendezvous points” around the city of Zurich. The package deliverer collects the products from there and delivers them to the end customers while the drones return to the retailer. The entire process chain is timed from receiving the order through to delivery to the customer, and compared with the time required for conventional delivery in order to learn about the efficiency of the process.

The pilot project is the first step in an iterative process working toward a system solution with a cleat vision: dynamic route planning with the flexible use of drones and automated order management for fast, reliable and efficient on-demand delivery. In the future, drone deliveries are to be dynamically integrated into conventional delivery tours. This means that instead of waiting for the drones to arrive at predefined stops, the drones will supply the vans at a suitable stopping point on their regular tours. This allows urgent consignments to be added to ongoing delivery journeys, getting consignments to customers faster.