Alibaba’s logistics arm works on driverless technology as automation pace picks up

Alibaba took a majority stake in its Cainiao unit last year and pledged to invest in research and spending to improve the efficiency of its logistics arm. 

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 January, 2018, 11:45am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 January, 2018, 12:12pm

The friendly courier who delivers your online shopping packages may soon be replaced by self-driving vehicles, robots and drones.

Following’s announcement it plans to use self-driving vans to deliver orders by June in Tianjin, Alibaba Group said its Cainiao logistics unit is also working on driverless vehicle technology as part of its drive to improve its courier processes.

“As a technology-driven delivery platform, Cainiao Network is always exploring new solutions that will improve delivery industry efficiency,” Alibaba said in a statement. “Autonomous driving is one of the initiatives that Cainiao ET lab has been working on.”

Cainiao, which is majority owned by Alibaba, is testing driverless trucks and may soon introduce them to its fleet, reported earlier, citing people familiar with the matter. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

Alibaba increased its stake in the logistics unit last year and pledged to invest another 100 billion yuan (US$15.2 billion) over five years to strengthen its global network. The investment will be spent on research and development, developing smart warehousing and delivery, the company said then.

China’s internet giants – like their counterparts in the US – are using technology to replace repetitive, menial tasks, both to increase efficiency as well as to address a looming labour shortage as the pool of cheap, young workers shrinks. Besides driverless delivery, both Alibaba and have automated their warehouses and are using robots to sort millions of parcels. They are also experimenting with cashier-less convenience stores and supermarkets by using advanced technology like facial recognition and mobile payments.