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Mercedes-Benz Next: pactris.

An app that takes the stress out of packing your boot.

  • 23. February 2017
  • Mobility Concept
  • Illustration: Pawel Sobolewski
  • Text: Ernesto Singer und Hans Kaltenthal

Thanks to “pactris”, drivers of smart cars know how much will fit in their car before they even start packing. The digital assistant is available for download free of charge.

It all started with a young man standing helplessly by his car in the middle of the car park of a Swedish furniture store. While doing his shopping he had overestimated how much space there was in his boot. The inevitable consequence was that his car was hopelessly overfilled. He almost had to take a box back to the checkout. This experience left a lasting impression – and gave the young man, Gabriel Selbach, an idea: would it be possible for a smartphone to work out how many of the items that you were buying would fit in your car?

Together with Sebastian Thiemt and Toni Hoang, Gabriel Selbach set about putting flesh on the bones of his brainwave. The three young entrepreneurs then presented their idea at the inaugural DigitalLife Day in 2015 – and promptly won the competition for internal Daimler start-ups. They walked away with a development budget of €25,000, which they used to programme an initial prototype of the app. The trio were then given the opportunity to present this in various areas of the Group. “The candidate that first came to mind was Mercedes-Benz Vans,” explains Sebastian Thiemt. “But smart were even quicker in getting back to us with a really positive response.”

App available since early September 2016

When smart came on board, the three creators of the app were given an additional development budget. The app was quickly reprogrammed to cater to the current smart model range – and the customers of the practical sub-compact family car are already feeling the benefit. The finished app has officially been available since 2 September 2016 in the Apple App Store. Its Android equivalent was released in the Play Store just a few weeks ago.

“Right from the beginning we wanted the app to be a reliable everyday companion that people would actually use,” says Gabriel Selbach, outlining the team’s aspiration. The “pactris” process can be broken down into several steps. You first need to tell the app what items you want to pack into your car by using the smartphone camera. To do this, you scan the barcodes, which of course are found on almost every product in flat-pack furniture stores and DIY shops. The app then uses the unique product number to search for the dimensions of the box which you wish to load.

A database containing all the thousands of products that are available today would be too big to be stored on the app itself. So instead, a web crawler trawls the internet for the data that is hidden behind the scanned barcode. It almost always returns a hit. The app can work out from the dimensions of the box in which the item is packed whether it will fit into the car or not.

Providing real-time support for the post-shop packing of the car is by far the app’s most difficult job. “We spent most of our time developing the algorithm for the optimum packing sequence,” reports Sebastian Thiemt, who is currently the main person in charge of the pactris project.

' Providing real-time support for the post-shop packing of the car is by far the app’s most difficult job. '

Sebastian Thiemt, Developer of the pactris app

So no one gets left behind in the car park

Although there are some existing programmes that show you how to pack objects to save as much space as possible, they often fail to meet the requirements of everyday use. And, of course, the box containing your furniture doesn’t just have to fit inside the car, it also has to get through the tailgate. In the case of the smart forfour model, the app also takes into account the individually folding rear bench seat backrests and cushions. The app also asks how many passengers are travelling to make sure that no one has to stay behind in the car park.

The three young developers also thought about products whose dimensions have not yet found their way onto the internet: crates of beer or drinks are also stored in the app, as are removal boxes and the shopping crates used by the larger supermarket chains. The dimensions of other objects can simply be entered manually.

The optimum loading sequence is shown in a 3D view that displays the selected smart model and the items that need to be packed. “To make it look as aesthetically pleasing as possible, we got help from the smart design department,” explains Sebastian Thiemt. “It was interesting trying to find a good compromise between the most realistic depiction and the available computing power on the smartphone.”

Other possible uses

Taking a longer-term view, it’s not just smart customers who will benefit from the app. Customers of Mercedes-Benz will also one day discover pactris – potentially even via an interface with the Mercedes me app.

Until that day arrives, the pactris developers are working on new fields of application for their load compartment Tetris app. And in Daimler’s plant logistics, the team have found a suitable candidate: “Every day, huge numbers of goods are packed and unpacked here in a precisely coordinated process,” says Sebastian Thiemt. “A pro-version of our app could help, for example, to optimise the loading and unloading sequence.”

For more efficient logistics

The major benefit of using the app in plant logistics would be that all the specifications of all loading containers, including their dimensions, are already recorded in the IT system. Cages have standardised dimensions, and the loading spaces of trucks and vans generally have a practical rectangular footprint. This is where pactris would come in: the app could track and optimise the route taken by an individual part from the moment it arrives at the works gate to its delivery to the assembly line. Time wasted switching from one container to another would be almost completely eliminated thanks to the digital loading assistant.

Steffen Kaup, Head of the Transport and Logistics Future Research team in Daimler’s Group Research unit

Steffen Kaup, Head of the Transport and Logistics Future Research team in Daimler’s Group Research unit

“The pactris app could play a key role in future transport and logistics concepts,” predicts Steffen Kaup, Head of the Transport and Logistics Future Research team in Daimler’s Group Research unit. “One of the bigger trends in the transportation of goods will be the breakdown of goods into smaller units. These can then navigate an existing traffic network using different transport modes, which is also known as synchromodal transport. The pactris app may prove itself to be a useful component for the overall concept for this type of transport.” For such a system to work, it is vital to not only efficiently access the loading spaces of the various modes of transport, but to have information on how much space all of the items to be loaded take up.

Steffen Kaup sees the ever-increasing demands on e-commerce as one of the greater trends. Households are having more goods delivered home and requirements with regard to speed of delivery and reduction of waiting times are on the increase. Crowd-delivery services are designed to combat these trends, i. e. a lot of smaller delivery services or even private persons who support goods transportation in city centres. These could also be seen as a future area of application for pactris as these services don’t just deliver goods on their route through inner-city areas, but they also take other packages on board.

It’s clear that the growing connectedness of our world is creating whole new possibilities in the field of logistics. The three pactris pioneers weren’t even thinking of that when they first came up with their idea – but in the end the new app is not just helping owners of smart vehicles on their shopping trips, it will potentially also make logistics more efficient both in and outside the factory gates.

' The pactris app could play a key role in future transport and logistics concepts. '

Steffen Kaup, Head of the Transport and Logistics Future Research team in Daimler’s Group Research unit

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