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Mercedes’ Vision Van is the electric, drone-equipped van of the future

Mercedes-Benz has built its share of high-tech luxury concept cars over the years, but now it’s applying the latest technology to a different type of vehicle.

The Mercedes-Benz Vision Van aims to show how automotive-tech buzzwords like connectivity and electric powertrains can be applied to commercial vehicles. It’s part of a new strategy called adVANce, through which Mercedes hopes to become not just a vehicle manufacturer, but a purveyor of “holistic system solutions.” It looks like the humble delivery van is about to get a lot more complicated.

The sleekly-styled Vision Van features an all-electric powertrain. The single electric motor produces 75 kilowatts (100 horsepower) and 199 pound-feet of torque. Top speed is limited to 80 kph (50 mph), but Mercedes says the van will do 120 kph (74 mph) with the limiter disengaged. Since the Vision Van was designed around its electric powertrain, it also has a completely flat floor and a shorter front end, freeing up more cargo space.

Read more: Mercedes-Benz unveils no-frills Metris Worker van

To make the most of that cargo space, Mercedes created an automated system of racks and shelves to speed up loading and unloading. Packages are placed in trays on shelving units that run parallel to the van’s centerline, and pulled out when needed without any human involvement. The entire system is controlled from the cloud, and can be integrated with a delivery company’s package-management system.

In addition to eliminating the tiresome task of sorting through packages, the Vision Van makes the walk from the curb to a customer’s doorstep unnecessary too. It comes equipped with a pair of drones that can each carry a 2.0-kilogram (4.4-pound) load within a radius of 10 km (6.2 mi). Mercedes says the drones are for delivering items to areas with restricted vehicle access, but perhaps it’s trying to court Amazon as well.

The Vision Van itself isn’t destined for production, but Mercedes will continue development of some of its high-tech features as part of the adVANce program. The automated rack system will be tested in a pilot program, and Mercedes is investigating ways to use connectivity to increase the efficiency of delivery services.

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