JD's unmanned small-sized driverless vehicle is pictured on June 18, 2017. (Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn)
Starting next month, residents of Beijing's Haidian district, also known as China's Silicon Valley, may have the opportunity to receive shipments of online purchases from robots or drones instead of human couriers.
The automatic delivery devices, withstanding numerous tests and adjustments totaling to a distance extending to 7,000 kilometers long, have recently been put into small-scale production by a new technological firm headquartered in Haidian district.
But this is not the first time that tech companies have tested out automatic deliveries.
On June 18 of last year, JD.com Inc., one of China's e-commerce goliaths, completed the first unmanned delivery at the Renmin University of China in Haidian district. Following the first successful order, the conglomerate has created its delivery machines into small and medium sizes, each able to carry five and six parcels at once, respectively. While both kinds of unmanned vehicles are expected to deliver 10 to 20 orders a day, the minor difference in size enables the smaller machines to travel 20 kilometers and the medium ones 80 kilometers on a full charge.
Logistics firms, which have long sought to solve the so-called "last mile" problem of delivering goods individually to consumers' doorsteps, may be able to halve their costs by adopting automatic deliveries,
Guided by GPS and remote control, the unmanned devices can follow the routes that avoid road barriers and notify customers to pick up their packages via instant messages, including passwords to unlock the packages.
Additionally, unmanned deliveries could be a trend in the long run. In Europe, robots by Starship Technologies have been tested on sidewalks in 100 cities, and the YAPE robot by Italian company e-Novia can travel 6.5 kph on pedestrian roads and 20 kph in bicycle lanes.
Agility Robotics, a company headquartered in Albany, the New York State, has created a robot that can operate in a variety of real-world environments. Its first product, Cassie, which is shaped like an ostrich and can deliver groceries and assistance in disaster recovery has received orders from six research institutes.
Within 10 years, robots will replace couriers to deliver 80 percent of parcels, according to a forecast by the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
However, there are still safety concerns. For instance, Amazon's "autonomous ground vehicles" are able to unlock doors at customers' homes to deliver packages when they are not present, if the customer gives their permission.
But it was exposed last year that the function could enable hackers to intercept information and maneuver the machine to steal things after the robots had entered.
Nevertheless, according to many analysts, these smart technologies will inevitably replace human labor in the delivery industry.
"The penetrating technologies of artificial intelligence can usher in a new era for e-commerce platforms," said Yang Xuecheng, a professor in the School of Economics and Management at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications.