Mercedes Benz: Modular autonomy or URBANETIC
Mercedes Benz has just presented its latest concept: a self-driving vehicle that blurs the line between moving people around and transporting goods.
URBANETIC, as the concept is called, is effectively a modular vehicle system. The electrically powered chassis is separated from the vehicle's body: this has allowed Mercedes Benz to offer the flexibility of switching bodies. According to the company, the URBANETIC can alter between a ride-sharing vehicle and a classic goods transporter.
A people carrier ?
When the people-mover module is selected, the URBANETIC can accommodate up to 12 people. As Mercedes Benz explains, the total vehicle length is slightly over 5m: the URBANETIC measures 5.14m long (approximately 17ft), which is slightly longer than the average, middle-sized sedan and slightly shorter than a Cadillac Escalade. Although its dimensions do not create "space saving" expectations for our congested cities, they do provide a space-efficient alternative to privately-owned cars.
The URBANETIC concept includes a ride-hailing like app which will supposedly enable on-demand, sustainable, and efficient movement of people (and goods). Given the direction ride-sharing is headed towards, one could safely assume that URBANETIC will enable on-demand shuttle services - practically, a higher, more streamlined version of Uber's Express Pool for high-density urban centres. As Mercedes Benz explains, their latest concept will be able to integrate with the operators' fleet management applications, thus enabling real-time planning of routes. The ability to adapt the route based on real-time traffic information is an added bonus - albeit not a groundbreaking one, given that most, if not all autonomous vehicles are expected to have similar functions in order to eliminate and/or avoid traffic congestion.
... or a truck?
The electrically powered chassis can also be paired with a cargo module. As a truck, the URBANETIC offers a variable load floor which allows the space compartment to be divided into two levels. According to the published information, the Cargo module can hold up to ten EPAL palettes.
Apart from the claimed maximisation of cargo space, Mercedes Benz hopes to offer more to its future clientele, which presumably includes delivery companies, among others. As congested cities are rapidly moving towards banning internal-combustion vehicles from the polluted city centres, the URBANETIC could provide an emissions-free solution to companies needing to transport bulky items, for whom e-cargo bikes and electric motorcycles are not a viable solution. Additionally, the autonomy offered by URBANETIC will lower the running costs of deliveries: with the human driver out of the picture, a potentially non-stop operation (but for the charging times), and the ability to switch between freight and people transportation, Mercedes Benz may be able to provide a very cost-effective solution to an array of companies: it could potentially allow freight companies to incorporate ride-hailing services into their portfolio, and vice versa.
Although it is not known whether URBANETIC will ever go into production, it definitely serves a purpose: it allows Mercedes Benz and its competitors to reimagine what they can do after autonomy becomes a reality and it encourages the more efficient use of resources.
Photo Credit: Mercedes Benz