People in Beijing will begin to see self-driving delivery minivans moving cautiously alongside human delivery drivers whizzing along the streets of the Chinese capital.
Companies JD.com, Meituan and Neolix have obtained approval to test self-driving delivery vehicles on public roads in the Yizhuang area of southeast Beijing, marking a further step in the self-driving industry towards the marketing.
Also in the same area, the 5G network has just been implemented in a widespread manner, with the aim (among many others) of providing adequate coverage for the management of autonomous driving.
Local administrations formalized the operating licenses of the three companies for self-driving delivery vehicles at the 8th international congress of intelligent and connected vehicle technology last May 25th.
Neolix is a start-up specialized in the production of driverless logistics vehicles, surveillance and other city services. It is supported and funded by the Li Auto electric vehicle factory and will place 150 delivery robots on the streets of Beijing by June.
Neolix vehicles in the test area will function as mobile vending machines for the sale of snacks and lunch baskets to workers around the commercial complexes. Users can place the order on a small screen attached to the robot, pay via a QR code and instantly receive the purchased product.
JD is one of the main Chinese marketplaces active in e-commerce and has its own logistics. JD released its first generation of autonomous delivery vehicles in 2016 and adopted robots in over 20 cities in China as of April 2021.
The vehicles leave the JD delivery station unsupervised, loaded with packages, and plan their route based on the delivery address of each order. This technology allows each driver to remotely monitor up to 50 operating robots simultaneously.
JD's vehicles will transport packages from logistics centers and supermarkets to nearby office buildings, residential complexes and school campuses. Customers will be able to collect their order directly from the van using a collection code sent to them via a smartphone message.
Meituan is a food delivery company, a sector that has experienced a real boom following the global pandemic. The company relies on a nationwide network of riders to bring takeaway food to customers.
They have been working internally on autonomous driving technologies in recent years and in the test area they will use a small fleet of drones for home deliveries. If the test is successful, they are ready to replicate the same model across China.
Image Credits: JD.com Robot for Autonomous Road Delivery. Photo: JDLogistic's WeChat account
At the congress event, local authorities released a regulation for autonomous delivery vehicles, the first of its kind in the country.
Based on the rules, the unmanned delivery vehicles of these companies are classified as "non-motor vehicles," which means they will run near bicycles instead of cars.
Furthermore, the regulation sets standards for size, weight, speed and other characteristics for robotic vehicles to be put under supervision alongside self-driving cars and buses.
The presence of drivers on site and remotely is also required, at least during the first days of testing, as a precaution.
Over the past 10 years we saw a big revolution in the logistics sector, due to e-commerce and at meantime under pressure during the pandemic. All for the benefit of the customer, who receives (and pretend) the goods at home in a short time, even after a few hours from the purchase.
To satisfy more and more people and maintain the high standards of service, logistics companies are forced to use automation systems. This thing could involve the replacement of human couriers with machines and create new professional figures. Will working conditions improve?
Author: Alessandro Ave
Main image Credits: JD.com robot for autonomous delivery. Photo: JDLogistic WeChat account
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