Process chain: Through the city of the future with Vision URBANETIC

Sep 10, 2018
  • Multiple usage options in people moving and goods transport
  • More flexibility, speed and comfort for travellers
  • Greater efficiency and reliability in B2B goods transport
  • Improved service in B2C package delivery
  • Overall – less traffic and improved quality of urban life

Roger Taylor lives in a suburb of a major city. Together with his family, he values the peace and quiet of life in the countryside. Until a few years ago, however, he had to pay for this quality of life with a gruelling commute. First, he drove his car to the nearest train station – at least 15 minutes depending on traffic but sometimes up to half an hour. Once there, he had to find a parking space in the busy park-and-ride car park and wait a few minutes for his train. Then he had a journey of at least 17 minutes to the station closest to his destination followed by another 12 minutes on foot to his workplace. There and back, he had to allow for at least 90 minutes every single day – the length of a football match, just not as entertaining.

Since level-5 autonomous driving reached Roger Taylor’s hometown, he usually travels to the office using on-demand ride-sharing. He orders his ride via app while sitting at the breakfast table. The system quickly responds with exactly where and when he can catch his ride-share. Depending on traffic and weather, the system also suggests a combination of ride-sharing and public transport if it makes Roger’s trip faster or more economical.

The pick-up point for the Vision URBANETIC is, in any event, no more than five minutes’ walk from his home; the same applies to the route from the drop-off point to his office. His app shows him the departure time down to the last minute. He can also see where his ride-share is at any point in time. The ride to the office now takes 11 minutes less due to the drastic reduction in traffic resulting from autonomous driving and modern sharing concepts. Altogether, Roger Taylor now has a 42-minute round journey each day.

He has cut his journey time every day by around 50 minutes. Plus, he is a lot more relaxed when he arrives than he was before.

The ride-sharing vehicle in this future scenario is the Vision URBANETIC, the visionary mobility concept from Mercedes-Benz Vans. It is based on a self-driving, all-electric driving platform that can be equipped with different interchangeable modules for people moving or goods transportation depending on the usage scenario. Vision URBANETIC is controlled by an intelligent IT system. Customers, private individuals or companies, can use an app to register their transport needs. Based on the changeover concept, the system analyses these and deploys a fleet of self-driving vehicles best able to address the demand. In the course of the day, the fleet can be flexibly adapted to fluctuating demand between the two usage types. The system considers all sorts of factors, ranging from weather, to the urgency of the needs to events and other circumstances that generate increased mobility.

At the heart of the concept is the sharing mindset – passengers with a similar destination ride in the same vehicle, companies from a diverse array of sectors transport their goods in the same vehicles. Paired with widespread fully automated and driverless transport, Vision URBANETIC reduces traffic, lowers emissions and contributes to an improved quality of urban life. Roads and parking areas can be relieved or even reclaimed, creating new space for city planning and design.

“Vision URBANETIC is a completely new mobility concept configured specifically for actual needs as well as efficiency and sustainability. During the rush-hour traffic of early morning and late afternoon, the fleet can be equipped with more people-mover modules. During other times, the system would mainly be used for goods transport with the cargo module. The virtually noiseless electric drive makes the system viable for further late or night-time delivery options”, says Gerd Reichenbach, Head of Strategy at Mercedes-Benz Vans.

A new city-centre experience with visionary communication

The people-mover used by Roger Taylor and other commuters for the daily drive to work is specifically designed for transporting people. It has space for a total of twelve – on eight seats with four standing. The futuristic ride offers the highest levels of comfort in terms of equipment and ambience. The rear area provides passengers with a protected space that has a cocooning effect. They cannot be seen from outside and can enjoy their privacy. The standing space for passengers is in the central area close to the door and intended for short trips only. The front area is open and dominated by a large number of window elements, facilitating a clear view of the city for, say, tourists.

Furthermore, Vision URBANETIC offers its passengers a whole new dimension in communication. The 360-degree halo display on the ceiling shows the most important information, such as stops or useful facts on the city and its surroundings. Augmented-reality projections can provide passengers with recommended route guidance to further city destinations, sent directly to their own mobile devices. These are based on individual passenger preferences and take into account the existing user profile. For instance, the system offers the fastest route for commuters, the most inexpensive route for cost optimisation or a varied sightseeing route.

“Vision URBANETIC is a completely new mindset. What will matter in future is no longer how I get from A to B with one specific mode of transport. The question is rather what transport mix will get me to where I want to be as quickly, efficiently, safely and sustainably as possible. Thanks to its flexibility and the embedding of an analytical IT infrastructure, Vision URBANETIC offers the best prerequisites for this kind of networked mobility”, explains Gerd Reichenbach. One some days, for instance, depending on actual mobility volumes or other factors, the best combination for getting to work might be Vision URBANETIC and a rental bicycle. On other days, a mix of local public transport and Vision URBANETIC could be the best combination.

More flexibility and efficiency in B2B goods transportation

Carl Fisher works as an installer for a large plumbing company. Previously, before he could start doing his actual job – installing heating and plumbing equipment – he first had to get to the office, check his job list, load his vehicle with the necessary tools and material and then battle his way through city traffic in his van. He spent two to three hours every day just loading and driving his vehicle. Today – in the year 2036 – the process with Vision URBANETIC is entirely different. The customer sends the job or enquiry to the plumbing company. The local dispatcher determines which employee will do the job on which day. At the same time, it also determines the necessary resources – material, tools etc. On the day of the job itself, warehouse personnel at the plumbing company load the Vision URBANETIC with the required materials and tools. It then drives directly to the job location. Carl Fisher finds out via his app whether it will be less expensive for him to travel to the job via public transport or another Vision URBANETIC. Once there, he unloads the vehicle. The Vision URBANETIC then returns to the plumbing company or drives to another location, where it is needed for further transportation work.

The new mobility options have several benefits for Carl Fisher. He no longer has to load the van himself with materials, make the stressful journey through city traffic then search for a parking spot and potentially walk a considerable distance to the job location. The system also pays dividends for his employer. Carl Fisher now spends two to three hours more per day on productive work with customers, and the process chain involving planning and vehicle dispatch can be structured far more efficiently. Moreover, in certain circumstances, the company can reduce the size of its own vehicle fleet, which spends most of the day parked unused in the yard.

This example is not the only usage option for Vision URBANETIC in B2B goods transport. Fitted with the appropriate body, it is also ideally suited for deliveries to retail outlets such as department stores, DIY stores and supermarkets. Here, too, the process chain is simple and efficient. The retailer orders its goods from the wholesaler, which allocates the corresponding goods and a vehicle to the job. In a hub outside the city, the goods are automatically picked and loaded into the Vision URBANETIC, which brings the cargo module to the delivery address and leaves it there. The self-driving chassis then drives to the smart city hub, a decentralised logistics centre in the city where the bodies are stored and maintained, to pick up the next cargo module or a people-mover module for the building rush-hour traffic. Retailers benefit in this scenario from enormous delivery flexibility and better planning for goods inward as the arrival of the Vision URBANETIC can also be reliably specified in advance within tight time windows. This facilitates optimisation of delivery movements, e.g. to take place outside rush-hour commuter traffic and thus improve traffic balance.

“Vision URBANETIC also represents a paradigm shift in B2B goods transportation. The distribution system for goods will become more decentralised in future and focused more on flexibility and efficiency. Instead of returning again and again to a central hub outside the city, the vehicles will be sent to smaller, decentralised, perhaps even mobile, hubs. This means faster deliveries and more agile reaction to changes in demand and retail inventory”, says Gerd Reichenbach.

A new level of service for the courier, express and package sector

Sophia Carpenter orders a great deal online – books, clothes, jewellery. She works in sales for an international company, which means she travels a lot and is often not home until late. That meant she often used to have to pick up her packages from the delivery company or a neighbour. With Vision URBANETIC, she can now plan her deliveries much better. Inconvenient trips to the courier and watching out for the neighbours are things of the past. When she places her order, she simply selects a time window and a location for taking receipt of her package. The goods are delivered to the smart city hub and then loaded onto the vehicle allocated to the job on the requested day. The Vision URBANETIC works its way through its route and, before its arrival at the selected destination, the system automatically sends a message confirming the final time and location of the handover. On arriving at the destination, Sophia Carpenter identifies herself and takes her shipment from the vehicle, which only releases the delivery destined specifically for her. She can also deposit pre-registered return items in the vehicle. The Vision URBANETIC then informs the system that the job has been completed and is directed to the next drop-off point.

“Vision URBANETIC takes the standard of service in many sectors to a whole new level and relieves city centres. For instance, it reduces the empty or unnecessary trips made by courier, express and package services that occur today for reasons such the delivery addressee not being home. It groups needs and uses intelligent route management and planning in people moving to avoid just one person sitting in the vehicle. The overall effect – fewer CO2 emissions, less noise pollution, more space in city centres – means a considerable improvement in the quality of life in our towns and cities. That’s what’s truly visionary about our concept”, stresses Gerd Reichenbach.