Mercedes Unveils Autonomous, Shape-Shifting, Dual-Purpose Vehicle


The quest to streamline automobile use might have reached a new level with the recent unveiling of a Mercedes-Benz concept. The autonomous Vision Urbanetic will allow for transitioning between a shuttle bus and a delivery van.

The vehicle starts with a flat chassis onto which multiple bodies can be snapped into place – sort of a like a Lego Transformer. In the passenger shuttle configuration, an egg-shaped minibus body can accommodate up to a dozen people – eight seated and four standing.

Another body style offers a cargo box body that can be used to haul cargo. All of the mechanical components are housed in the chassis. This design, along with the elimination of a driver’s cab, helps maximize the space needed for either passengers or payload.

The bodies are designed to be switched manually or through an automatic system. According to Mercedes, the process only takes a few minutes. The chassis can also be driven without a body, meaning fleet operators or public transit systems could potentially send for the chassis and then designate the appropriate body style depending on need.

The overall goal is to simply accomplish the same transportation and logistics needs with fewer vehicles – cutting emissions and limiting road construction in the process. While Mercedes is not the first automaker to propose a modular approach, it is interesting to hear a company that makes vehicles offer a solution that could lead to them making fewer vehicles.

The bodies used with the Vision Urbanetic platform offer a collection of cameras and sensors to assist in autonomous operations and identify the best possible travel routes, but with a few new wrinkles – like a front display that tells pedestrians that the vehicle is giving them the right of way. Additionally, interior augmented reality displays can sync with a passenger’s smartphone to provide customized travel information. 

Mercedes will look to provide a roll-out schedule for the Vision Urbanetic later this month.

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