JD.com plans to make courier robots smarter by enabling them to ‘talk’ to lifts, ascend towers
JD.com, China’s second biggest e-commerce services provider, is working with major lift manufacturers to figure out how its courier robots could communicate machine-to-machine so that they can deliver to flats in tower blocks.
If robots can navigate slopes and climb stairs, the friendly delivery man, or woman, as we know them today would disappear to be replaced by machines, according to Richard Liu Qiangdong, the founder and chief executive of JD.com.
Logistics companies have been automating their processes for years, from post offices installing sorting machines to e-commerce companies developing unstaffed warehouses.
JD.com is also developing drones that can take off and land vertically, for use in deliveries to remote locations. These drop-offs cost five times the cost of delivering in a major city like Tianjin, where Liu was delivering his speech at the 2nd World Intelligence Congress on Wednesday.
Vertical take-offs and landings reduce the cost of building runways, according to Liu. “I believe AI brings a lot of benefits. For example, we make robots … and the ‘courier brothers’ can stay at the office to control the robot for product delivery,” he said.
Liu, who had previously predicted that the use of artificial intelligence and big data could potentially replace half of JD.com’s workforce, said in the conference that the company will never fire any of its “brothers” on account of advances in technology because the Nasdaq-listed firm’s new business will continue growing and will need humans.
Beijing-based JD.com has invested heavily in technology to bolster its logistics services in mainland China and globally. In February, the company raised US$2.5 billion in the latest funding round for JD Logistics, which became a stand-alone subsidiary in April 2017.
The e-commerce giant reportedly plans to spin off that logistics business through an overseas initial public offering in the future, without specifying a time frame.
On the mainland, JD.com plans to use the new funding to expand its logistics network and use of technology.
As of last year, the company operated seven fulfilment centres and 405 warehouses, covering 2,830 counties and districts across China, staffed by its own employees. Overseas, it has invested in logistics infrastructure in Southeast Asia and entered into a tie-up with Japanese delivery firm Yamato Holdings last December.