Alibaba to start delivery with autonomous robots

Alibaba to start delivery with autonomous robots
Photo: Alibaba Group

As from next year, Alibaba will start delivering online orders with autonomous robots. At its annual technology conference, the Chinese Amazon rival unveiled its new fleet of self-driving robots, capable of finding their way all by themselves.


“Competent donkeys”

Alibaba will be hiring donkeys next year. At least, fully automated and self-driving robots that are given the name Xiaomanlv, freely translated as "competent donkey". As from 2021 the robots will help with the e-commerce group's deliveries to thousands of places in China. In the future, Alibaba also wants to make them available to local parcel delivery companies.

The compact robots can deliver up to 500 parcels a day, for example in a neighbourhood or on a campus, as they can transport around 50 orders at a time and cover a distance of 100 kilometres per load. DAMO Academy, Alibaba's own research and innovation institute, announced this at the 12th edition of Apsara, the group's annual technology conference.

The delivery robots are equipped with advanced geolocalisation and deep-learning technologies to help them navigate even when the GPS signal is weak or non-existent or where many people are present. The donkey can identify obstacles and anticipate the movements of other road users and vehicles, according to Jack Ma's company. When users place an order, they can choose a delivery time and when the robot arrives at its destination, customers are informed. They can take their parcel out of the robot by entering a previously received code, writes L'Usine Digitale.


60 billion parcels

It is the first time that Alibaba is rolling out autonomous robots on a large scale for 'last mile' deliveries. Previously, logistics subsidiary Cainiao had already massively deployed robotics in the company's automated warehouses. However, the group expects consumers to demand even more and faster deliveries in "the increasingly digitised world". According to the Chinese state postal agency, the demand for courier services in the country has risen sharply, with more than 60 billion parcels delivered in 2019 - an increase of 20% compared to 2018.

Alibaba's cloud computing department also unveiled a new mini-computer which weighs no more than an egg. The 60g personal cloud computer can be connected to any computer screen, and would be more efficient and offer more cloud computing capabilities than many other PCs. Alibaba thus wants to make it easier to have a computer at hand wherever and whenever it is needed.