Mercedes-Benz Urbanetic van is an autonomous body-swapper
11 September 2018 - Autoblog
Vehicle switches bodies in minutes to fit your needs
Autonomous, electric transportation pods are not a new idea. It seems every other automaker has a plan for one, so in that sense the Mercedes-Benz Urbanetic concept van isn't super original. But it has features that make it more unique, specifically that the vans have interchangeable bodies, and they're connected by a management system that is also autonomous.
To handle the interchangeable bodies, the vehicle itself is more like a flat, skateboard-esque chassis. It's not unlike the General Motors SURUS autonomous vehicle, except designed for city streets rather than remote locations and disaster-struck towns. This is where all of the driving components are located, and Mercedes mentions that each driving system has redundancies to ensure it operates safely. Each chassis is designed to accept either a module for people that can hold 12 passengers or a cargo module with about 353 cubic feet of space for whatever you need to haul. The passenger module is egg-like and round with swooping oval windows. The cargo module is about as utilitarian as you can get, taking the form of a rounded brick. The vehicle also features a display on the front to signal pedestrians when it recognizes them and it's safe to cross in front of the van.
The whole system that connects the cars and manages them can run autonomously is also very interesting. It can track where people are congregating and summoning rides and start sending more vans there to pick up people. It can also monitor traffic and reroute vehicles to get them to destinations as efficiently as possible. Most impressively, the system can convert vans on the fly. It can have van chassis come back to the central hub to have the bodies swapped depending on demand. According to Mercedes, the conversion only takes a few minutes.
But like most other autonomous pods, there are no near-term plans to bring this vehicle to market. It's a concept only. Time will tell if and when we'll see vans like this on the road.