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Mercedes 'mothership' will transport robot workers to deliver packages

Mercedes 'mothership' will transport robot workers to deliver packages
A human will drive the van into neighborhoods; the robots will bring the packages to the door. (Starship Technologies)

Robots need rides, too. Enter the Mercedes-Benz "Robovan."

Starship Technologies, maker of squat six-wheeled robots that deliver packages to businesses and homes, said Wednesday it is working with Mercedes to develop a van to transport eight of the robots and release them onto sidewalks to make deliveries.

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The vans, for now, are to be driven by humans.

"By leaving the door-to-door part to delivery robots the van drivers' productivity will significantly rise while reducing congestion on the streets and CO2 emissions," Allan Martinson, Starship's chief operating officer, said in a statement. Left unsaid: Fewer van drivers will be needed for a given volume of business.

The typical volume of deliveries is 180 packages per nine-hour shift, according to Martinson. The Robovan and its robots will more than double that, to 400 packages, he said.

Other companies, including Amazon.com Inc., are developing airborne drones to solve the “last mile” problem in package delivery — the problem being that delivery to individual homes and businesses is expensive. Robots theoretically will be more efficient and dependable than human workers.

Starship is based in London with engineering offices in Estonia. Although its robots are ground-based, the company uses outer-space imagery for marketing purposes, and Mercedes joined in for this announcement.

"We call it the mothership concept," said Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans.

Twitter: @russ1mitchell

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