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Merc buys into delivery bots

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Mercedes-Benz Vans has invested in Starship Technologies, a start-up in the development of ground-based, autonomous delivery robots.

As lead investor, Mercedes-Benz Vans is participating in a 16.5 million euro financing round.

The two companies introduced the so-called mothership concept in September 2016. The concept combines the advantages of a van with those of an autonomous delivery robot. A Sprinter presented as a prototype serves as a mobile loading and transport hub for eight robots.

“Thanks to the intelligent interlinking of delivery processes, it will play a part in significantly improving the efficiency of last-mile delivery logistics in future,” Mercedes-Benz Vans said in a statement. “The mothership concept is the first outcome of a research and development cooperation between Mercedes-Benz Vans and Starship Technologies that began in 2016. Through its financial commitment to Starship Technologies, Mercedes-Benz Vans is now reinforcing this strategic, long-term collaboration.”

The investment, it says, is also in furtherance of its strategic future initiative called adVANce.

“The robot can only travel short distances under its own power and until now has had to return to the warehouse to be reloaded after each delivery”, says Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans. “On the one hand, the introduction of the van as a mobile hub widens the operational radius of the robots significantly, while also rendering superfluous the cost-intensive construction and operation of decentralised warehouses.

“We see the combination of these two technologies as an opportunity to give our van customers access to some completely new services and business models. At the same time, we make the delivery process much more convenient for the end customer. For example, the concept makes it much easier to deliver goods to the end customer on time.”

Systematic development

The aim is to develop the concept systematically over the coming months. As the two companies recently announced at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, initial pilot tests for this combination of van and robot are planned for Europe. Following pilot testing of the delivery robots, which has been and continues to be undertaken by Starship Technologies with other partners, the plan is to begin widespread testing of the joint concept with one or several logistics partners. The launch of the pilot project in a real-world environment is scheduled to take place later this year.

Mercedes-Benz Vans presses ahead with the transformation of the transport sector

Mercedes-Benz Vans unveiled its adVANce strategic future initiative last September. The business division is systematically directing its focus at new, quickly changing customer needs, with a particular eye to identifying innovative solutions. The company will invest some 500 million euros in the advancement of digitisation, automation and robotics in vans as well as in innovative mobility offerings until 2020.

“Mercedes-Benz Vans is thus evolving from a globally successful van manufacturer into a supplier of holistic system solutions,” it says.

Cars

Body-tracking tech moves to assembly line

Technology typically used by the world’s top sport stars to raise their game, or ensure their signature skills are accurately replicated in leading video games, is now being used on an auto assembly line.

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Employees at Ford’s Valencia Engine Assembly Plant, in Spain, are using a special suit equipped with advanced body tracking technology. The pilot system, created by Ford and the Instituto Biomecánica de Valencia, has involved 70 employees in 21 work areas. 

Player motion technology usually records how athletes sprint or turn, enabling sport coaches or game developers to unlock the potential of sport stars in the real world or on screen. Ford is using it to design less physically stressful workstations for enhanced manufacturing quality.

“It’s been proven on the sports field that with motion tracking technology, tiny adjustments to the way you move can have a huge benefit,” said Javier Gisbert, production area manager, Ford Valencia Engine Assembly Plant. “For our employees, changes made to work areas using similar technology can ultimately ensure that, even on a long day, they are able to work comfortably.”

Engineers took inspiration from a suit they saw at a trade fair that demonstrated how robots could replicate human movement and then applied it to their workplace, where production of the  new Ford Transit Connect and 2.0-litre EcoBoost Duratec engines began this month.

The skin-tight suit consists of 15 tiny movement tracking light sensors connected to a wireless detection unit. The system tracks how the person moves at work, highlighting head, neck, shoulder and limb movements. Movement is recorded by four specialised motion-tracking cameras – similar to those usually paired with computer game consoles – placed near the worker and captured as a 3D skeletal character animation of the user.

Specially trained ergonomists then use the data to help employees align their posture correctly. Measurements captured by the system, such as an employee’s height or arm length, are used to design workstations, so they better fit employees. 

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Electric cars begin to bridge the luxury gap

A new era has dawned as electric mobility bridges the gap between luxury and necessity, writes TREVOR HILL – head of Audi South Africa.

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Mobility is essential to today’s world. We travel to get to work, to go shopping, and to meet friends and family – in short, effective transport impacts on all aspects of our modern lives. Access to mobility is critical to economic growth and progress, bringing more opportunities and better productivity. At the same time however, growing environmental concerns and a looming shortage of fossil fuels have created tension between our ever-growing demand for mobility and the health of our planet.

Growing populations, increasing urbanization and economic and social development mean that there are more cars on our roads each day. The knock-on effects of this are greater levels of congestion and longer times spent commuting, which means more stress and higher levels of aggression on the road. Skyrocketing levels of air pollution – to which transportation is one of the leading contributors – has negative effects on both health and climate change, both of which are key issues in global policy agendas.

So, the writing has been on the wall for some time. The gold standard in automotive technological progress has thus been to achieve a radical reduction of engine emissions and the development of electric cars has been at the forefront of this charge. We have now entered the beginning of a new era, as more and more of these vehicles take to the roads. Electric cars are now at the cusp of the mass market, with a steady stream of new models set to reach the consumer in future. Last week, we launched the Audi e-tron, our first all-electric-drive SUV, at a world premiere in San Francisco – one huge leap forward in pursuit of our goal. Audi will also bring more than 20 electrified models to the market by 2025, from the compact class to the full-size category. Around a dozen models will be all-electric, while the remainder will be plug-in hybrids for emission-free driving on shorter journeys.

Powering this development is ongoing improvement in battery technology, with increasing energy density and lengthened driving ranges possible between charges. Consumers have noted that they feel confident using electric cars for day-to-day use once battery technology can sustain a driving range of 300 or more kilometres, which is now possible. The Audi e-tron has a range of 400 kilometers, making it ideal for long distance driving. Drivers who charge the e-tron overnight can set off in the morning in full confidence that they won’t need to stop at a charging station as they go about their day.

What this technological progress also means however, is that the levels of power and performance achieved by an electric car draw ever closer to those of traditional engines. For anyone who loves high strung, powerful engines and the rush of adrenaline that comes from flooring the throttle on an empty stretch of road, this is no small thing.  At Audi, we are lucky to be surrounded by some of the most exceptional engines ever produced, so few people understand the thrill of an extraordinary driving experience better than we do. So, the holy grail is to achieve this same performance with vastly improved economy.

The Audi e-tron’s electric drive has two asynchronous motors, one at the front, one at the rear, with a total output of 300 kW of power. This allows the Audi e-tron to accelerate from 0 to 100km/h in just 5.7 seconds.

The next step will be the development of electric cars suitable for those who regularly drive long distances, entailing further advances in battery technology, and the development of a network of charging stations across the country. The battery for the Audi e-tron is designed to last the entire life cycle of the vehicle. When charged at a high-power charging station at up to 150 kW, the Audi e-tron can be restored to 80% in less than half an hour. At 22 kW, the Audi e-tron can charge its battery to 100% in around four and a half hours.

For city dwellers, however, the age of electric mobility has well and truly arrived. Rapid advances in technology continue to drive progress; the rise of electric cars is only one of many developments set to transform transportation as we know it, heralding a cleaner, more efficient future.

 

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