- Title: Pandemic pushes Chinese tech giant to put more courier robots to work
- Date: 28th September 2021
- Summary: BEIJING, CHINA (RECENT - SEPTEMBER 22, 2021) (REUTERS) JD'S SELF-DRIVING DELIVERY ROBOT OUTSIDE OF SUPERMARKET WITH ELECTRONIC SCREEN READING (Chinese): "JD EXPRESS DELIVERY" SUPER MARKET EMPLOYEE WALKING UP TO DELIVERY ROBOT SUPER MARKET EMPLOYEE'S FINGER PRESSING COMPUTER SCREEN ON DELIVERY ROBOT THEN SCANNING RECEIPT ON DELIVERY GOODS EMPLOYEE'S HANDS PUTTING BAG OF DELIVERY GOODS INTO COMPARTMENT ON DELIVERY ROBOT VARIOUS OF DELIVERY ROBOT DRIVING AWAY VIEW OF STREET AS SEEN FROM ROBOT AS IT DRIVES BY DELIVERY ROBOT DRIVING BY ON STREET (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) CHIEF SCIENTIST OF AUTONOMOUS DRIVING AT JD LOGISTICS, KONG QI, SAYING: "In February 2020 the pandemic greatly accelerated the use of these vehicles. In August 2020 in Changshu, that is a city in Jiangsu province, we set up quite a large scale system of internet-order deliveries with these self-driving vehicles. So we can create this systematic change that I just mentioned. That is, how do people and vehicles work together? And not just have a demonstration-type area for the vehicles. Rather the idea is to put these vehicles to use and combine them with the whole industrial chain." DELIVERY ROBOT DRIVING ON ROAD (MUTE) ACCELERATED VIDEO OF DELIVERY ROBOT DRIVING ON ROAD DELIVERY ROBOT DRIVING ON ROAD (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) CHIEF SCIENTIST OF AUTONOMOUS DRIVING AT JD LOGISTICS, KONG QI, SAYING: "Our delivery men seem happy when they use the self-driving vehicles. For example, in the city of Changshu, we had a delivery guy using three self-driving vehicles to help him deliver and collect parcels, and he had to do more customer service (on the side), so his salary increased proportionately by quite a bit. So, in this way our delivery men can invest more time into doing things of better value to their company and serve more clients." DELIVERY ROBOT ARRIVING AT DESTINATION ELECTRONIC SCREEN ON PARKED DELIVERY ROBOT READING (Chinese): "JD EXPRESS DELIVERY" VARIOUS OF DELIVERY MAN SORTING OUT PARCELS WITH DELIVERY ROBOT PARKED BEHIND HIM CUSTOMER ENTERING INFORMATION INTO DELIVERY ROBOT'S COMPUTER CUSTOMER COLLECTING GOODS FROM COMPARTMENT ON DELIVERY ROBOT 28-YEAR-OLD PROGRAMMER AT JD AND CUSTOMER, PAN HONGJU, ENTERING INFORMATION INTO DELIVERY ROBOT'S COMPUTER PAN OPENING COMPARTMENT AND COLLECTING GOODS FROM DELIVERY ROBOT (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) 28-YEAR-OLD PROGRAMMER AT JD AND CUSTOMER, PAN HONGJU, SAYING: "I hope (this sort of technology) can be used widely even sooner, because it will bring an added degree of convenience to our lives. And since we're in this pandemic, it will reduce person-to-person contact. It's safer." VARIOUS OF DELIVERY ROBOT PARKED AT ROADSIDE SIGN ON DELIVERY ROBOT READING (Chinese and English): "JDL (LOGISTICS) TECHNOLOGY" (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) 25-YEAR-OLD ONLINE RETAILER STAFF AND CUSTOMER, ZHANG JI, SAYING: "I think that when it comes (making deliveries) to offices, its level of efficiency is low. People are ordering a large amount of food and goods, but as you can see with this (robot), its delivery capacity is quite small. I think they need to increase its efficiency." DELIVERY ROBOT DRIVING ON STREET VIEW OF STREET AS SEEN FROM ROBOT AS IT DRIVES BY
- Embargoed: 12th October 2021 02:10
- Keywords: China JD.com automation autonomous delivery logistics pandemic robot self-driving
- Location: BEIJING, CHINA
- City: BEIJING, CHINA
- Country: China
- Topics: Asia / Pacific,Science
- Reuters ID: LVA001EWMT9ON
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:It may look like little more than a metal box on wheels and is now only being used in a handful of places, but Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com says its self-driving delivery will soon be rolled out on a "large scale" across the country.
It's something of a trend. JD.com's rivals including Alibaba and Meituan are also set to bring in more robots and self-driving vehicles earlier than expected as the COVID-19 pandemic fuels and sustains demand for contactless services. The firms expect to have more than 2,200 robots in operation between them by 2022, company executives said, encouraged also by falling costs of producing robots.
"The pandemic greatly accelerated the use of these vehicles," said Kong Qi, chief scientist of autonomous driving at JD.com logistics.
Millions of couriers still deliver goods or a meal for as cheap as 3 yuan ($0.47) in China, but companies have been exploring the use of drones or box-like robots on wheels from as early as 2013 amid rising labour costs and better technology. Leading Chinese delivery and ride-hailing companies have also been instructed by regulators to improve their treatment of workers, who face heavy pressure and take big risks to meet tight deadlines.
JD.com had targeted a June 2020 launch in Beijing, but started using the service earlier in Wuhan in February when the central Chinese city, where COVID-19 first emerged, went under lockdown, Kong said. The company is now using just over 200 self-driving vehicles across several cities in China including Changshu, Suzhou and Beijing and plans to expand to close to 1000 by the end of 2021 and then expand to a "large scale" over the next few years. The company said it devised the software itself and worked with a partner company to design the vehicle.
Kong said that the aim of this project is not to "replace" its 200,000 delivery workers with these self-driving vehicles, rather to shift the focus of their work to better serving customers.
During a company organised recent visit to Yizhuang, an area of Beijing where some of the vehicles are in use, Reuters witnessed them carrying out several "real deliveries" to customers several kilometres away. The vehicles were seen travelling at a modest speed, following the rules of the road and stopping when something came close to it. But not all customers were impressed.
"I think that when it comes (making deliveries) to offices, its level of efficiency is low," said 25-year-old online retailer employee Zhang Ji.
In addition to being slower than their human colleagues, the self-driving vehicles cannot climb stairs and are so far only allowed on certain routes like in housing estates and school campuses because of speed limits and road conditions. The robots and self-driving vehicles also tend to be used to deliver less time-sensitive products like packages, rather than food.
But proponents espouse long-term benefits of using robots such as lower last-mile delivery costs, which experts say account for half of the total cost of shipping. Kong said that the vehicles offer an "advantageous cost" over their human counterparts. The vehicles cost nearly 250000 yuan ($38,690.70) to make, but this price is falling, the company said.
(Production: Wang Shubing, Thomas Suen, Martin Pollard)
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