Written by IEEE | January 8, 2017   |   Updated: April 3, 2017

When people talk about Mercedes and its semi-autonomous fleet, they’re usually pointing at the consumer-focused S-Class, but at CES 2017, the German auto giant unveiled its newest take on autonomy with a van that’s outfitted with drones.

The Vision Van is designed as a solution for the e-commerce delivery industry. As Daimler puts it, the vans represent “the delivery sector of the future: driving, flying, thinking.”

The beauty of the Vision Van lies in the details. It’s not focused on long-haul drone delivery; the van is engineered to manage “last-mile” delivery in city settings.

While drone-based delivery may be ready for use on a local level, Daimler does point out that other elements of the process chain will also eventually require automation.

The Vision Van system is a data collection center in itself, recording things like addresses, package dimensions, and delivery windows. The back-end helps calculate the balance of drone automation and human intervention. Factors like whether or not the delivery address has a drone landing station can impact that balance.

Drone-based delivery isn’t just about convenience. It’s also a matter safety for the driver and the drone. The Vision Van is equipped with LEDs that signal when it’s safe to exit the vehicle for a manual delivery, and the drones only operate along pre-calculated routes that take into account regulations like “no-fly” zones.

The Vision Van represents an important pivot in the autonomous conversation, looking more closely at the relationship between human and machine.

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