Yes it’s futuristic, and yes it’s autonomous, but there’s plenty of that around these days. But while in those respects the Urbanetic is somewhat following the crowd at the moment, where it does diverge from – well, just about anything else – is with the fact it has interchangeable bodies.
As well as having various bodies to suit different applications, they’re all connected via a computer management system that’s also autonomous. Of course, to accommodate the different bodies, the chassis has to be unique too, which it is. The vehicle without a body shell on it looks a lot like a large, flat skateboard and has more than a passing resemblance to the SURUS autonomous vehicle concept produced by General Motors. However, while the GM vehicle is designed for remote locations and disaster zones, the Urbanetic is specifically aimed at operating in urban environments.
All the drive components are contained within the chassis, and Mercedes insists each drive system has redundancies to ensure safe operation. The chassis is designed to accommodate a couple of different bodies at the moment, which are a 12-passenger module for transporting people and a cargo module offering around 1 000 litres of space to do with what you will.
The module for passengers is a suitably futuristic egg-like structure with swooping oval windows, while the cargo module is about as plain and utilitarian as it gets. At the front of the vehicle there’s a display for signaling to pedestrians when it sees them, to let them know it’s safe to cross in front of the vehicle.
Among the cleverest aspects of the Urbanetic concept is the system connecting the units. The autonomous system is able to track where people are gathering and summoning rides and start sending more vans to pick up more people as required. The system also monitors traffic and congestion so it can reroute vehicles when appropriate, to get them to destinations as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Perhaps most impressively, the system is also said to be able to convert vans on the fly. That means units can come back to the central hub to have their bodies swapped to meet current demands and needs. According to Mercedes, best of all, the conversion process only takes a few minutes.
But as is usually the case with this type of concept, Mercedes currently has no plans to put it into production. – AFP Relaxnews