Renault EZ-Pro concept at IAA Commercial Vehicles show 2018

  • New Renault concept for future delivery system
  • Combines self-driving ‘pods’ with human concierge
  • Could this be the best of both worlds?

Renault has been at the gin again – meet the EZ-Pro concept, a futuristic solution for urban deliveries that combines autonomous technology with a human touch, on show for the first time at the 2018 IAA Commercial Vehicles show.

Like the Mercedes Vision Urbanetic concept, the Renault EZ-Pro not only drives itself but also features swappable modules that can be loaded onto an underlying electric drive platform, as required.

But unlike the Mercedes Urbanetic, the EZ-Pro is based around two different types of customisable ‘pod’ – a leader pod with a human ‘concierge’ on-board and follow-along robo-pods that are entirely self-driving.

Renault EZ-Pro being loaded or unloaded

Combine the two, and the theory is you’d have an autonomous platoon of delivery vehicles, all under the supervision of a single person, who is available to complete ‘last mile’ deliveries if required.

Looks mad, actually sounds rather clever. Here’s how it would work.

Renault EZ-Pro leader pod

Make no mistake, the EZ-Pro leader pod still drives itself, even though it has a human on board; there is a joystick for manual control, but for the most part this exotic-looking future van is designed to be autonomous.

Renault EZ-Pro leader pod with concierge on board

This frees up the concierge to supervise the progress of the robo-pods – which can follow-along looking like a giant Brio trainset or be dispatched to make independent delivery runs if needs be –perhaps complete some paperwork, or even interact with customers to make the delivery process as smooth as possible.

Four-wheel steering makes the EZ-Pro pods highly manoeuvrable, while electric motor drive means they creates zero emissions in motion; the motor is powered by batteries that are recharged by an inductive system that wirelessly sucks electricity out of strips buried in the road.

Sounds far-fetched, but Renault has already tested this part using modified Kangoo ZE electric vans.

Renault EZ-Pro top-down view showing different compartments

In addition to the cab area, the leader pod has its own cargo area, separated by a glass partition. If the concierge is called upon to make a delivery in person the EZ-Pro leader pod will drop them off then drive away to find a sensible parking space, returning on command.

So no more double-parked delivery vans blocking the highstreet.

Renault EZ-Pro robo-pod smartphone access

For the most part, however, people receiving packages are likely to access individual lockers in the cargo area by themselves, using a smartphone app. The concept allows for goods to be returned in the same way.

Renault EZ-Pro robo-pods

These operate in a similar way to the leader pod, except they have no space for a person on board. Instead, their platform is entirely given over to goods, specifically modular containers of different types that can be swapped as require, allowing each robo-pod to be multifunctional.

Renault EZ-Pro robo-pod as a food truck

This means that any one robo-pod could be a dedicated cargo carrier on one day, a food truck on another, and maybe a mobile store on yet another. Even the cargo carriers can be different – divided into smaller lockers, for individual deliveries, perhaps, or one large hold for a consignment that’s heading all to the same place.

Renault goes so far as to imagine a future of easily shared delivery capability, where different firms can all use the same autonomous van because everything is carefully segmented.

Renault EZ-Pro robo-pod compartments

More than this, the robo-pods’ ability to drive themselves means that they could potentially collect multiple orders for the same customer and deliver them all at once – perhaps adding to an online supermarket shop with a stop off at the local butcher, for example.

People receiving items would simply arrange to meet the pod at a convenient time or place, while goods and service providers would hire pods as needed, rather than maintaining their own fleet of vans.

Is Renault mad?

We don’t think so.

The technology necessary to make all of this work smoothly is still some way off, but with online retailing and last-mile delivery only set to increase, intelligent solutions that can get goods – and services – where they need to go while potentially reducing road congestion and improving business efficiency aren’t just desirable, they’re absolutely necessary.

Also read:

>> A-Z of the 2019 IAA Commercial Vehicles show

>> Mercedes Vision Urbanetic concept – a self-driving electric urban delivery van of the future

>> Renault reviews on Parkers Vans and Pickups

>> The Parkers Vans guide to electric vans