JD.com joins Baidu in chasing self-driving car dream with US$1.5 billion investment
Online retailer to set up R&D centres in Changsha economic development zone
Chinese online retailer JD.com has entered the autonomous driving fray and will invest 10 billion yuan (US$1.5 billion) in a project in Changsha, an equipment-manufacturing hub in Hunan province.
The Beijing company, founded by internet entrepreneur Richard Liu Qiangdong, joins the ranks of technology giants Google and Baidu, which have been pumping billions into the development of self-driving technology along with established car makers.
JD.com made the announcement on Wednesday at the China (Changsha) Smart Manufacturing Summit & Changsha International Smart Manufacturing Technology and Equipment Expo, and said it would set up research and product development centres in the Liuyang National Economic and Technological Development Zone, the city’s third state-level economic development zone.
The project will cover all aspects of self-driving technology and automated delivery, such as research, testing, maintenance, training and data management, the company said.
But while the likes of Baidu are working for first-mover advantage in a market that is expected to be among the most profitable for the car manufacturing industry, JD.com has been investing heavily in an automated fleet to boost efficiency and cut costs.
The online retailer has been using drones for delivery and runs unmanned sorting centres. In September, it said it was building two electric van models with SAIC Motor and Dongfeng Motor, respectively, which would operate between the company’s distribution centres and future delivery stations in urban areas.
The online retailer is among companies that have signed contracts with the Changsha government, which is planning to invest 41 billion yuan in new projects covering artificial intelligence, driverless technology, robotics and the cloud, according to local media.
Local governments have been setting up special technology zones after the Chinese government called for increased investment in the industry and in big data, artificial intelligence and innovation.
A total of US$929 million was invested in China in driverless technology, including self-driving vehicles, in the first quarter this year, according to research company CB Insights.