From drones to self-driving vans, China’s version of Amazon,, continues drive for faster, human-less deliveries

Chinese e-commerce giant has teamed up with Chinese carmakers SAIC Maxus and Dongfeng, to conduct research on autonomous vans

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 September, 2017, 8:04pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 September, 2017, 11:03pm, the Chinese e-commerce giant, is to partners with two local carmakers in researching what it claims will be the country’s first autonomous delivery vans – its latest effort to use unmanned vehicles to increase delivery efficiency across the world’s largest online shopping market.

Often referred to as China’s answer to Amazon, the Nasdaq-listed said it has jointly researched two models of autonomous light electric vans with SAIC Maxus and Dongfeng Motor, respectively, which would operate between the company’s distribution centres and future delivery stations in urban areas.

Without specifying when or where the first vans could actually be put into service, said the SAIC Maxus electric vehicle – equipping with radar, sensors and positioning systems – has already conducted successful tests on automatic route planning, automatic overtaking, and self-parking functions.

E-commerce giant to let drones do the heavy lifting in China’s rural areas

“Our extensive in-house logistics network provides the ideal real-world scenario in which to test autonomous vans,” said Wang Zhenhui, CEO of JD Logistics.

“Working with our partners, we will continue to enhance our smart logistics and push the bounds of traditional logistics solutions.”

The vans are the latest additions to’s automated delivery fleet, which includes automated technology-enabled warehouses and autonomous delivery robots that are expected to replace deliverymen in closed areas, such as campuses.

The company is already using drone deliveries, and says it is also well down the route to developing a delivery drone that can carry packages weighing as heavy as one metric tonne, to serve rural areas of the country.

The development of unmanned delivery vehicles has arguably become the hottest battleground for China’s e-commerce industry.

Alibaba Group Holding and US-based Amazon have also turned their attention to automating deliveries to shorten delivery times for online shoppers. Alibaba is the owner of the South China Morning Post.

Alibaba to deploy 1 million smart delivery vehicles to improve logistics efficiency

According to the latest statistics from China internet Network Information Centre, there were 514 million online shoppers as of June, a 10 per cent rise on the end of last year.

Increased spending online is expected to boost delivery volumes to 1 billion packages and parcels daily within a decade, according to Cainiao Network, Alibaba’s logistics arm.

To cope with the rising number of delivery volumes, Cainiao said in May it was working with SAIC Motor Corp and Dongfeng Motor Corp to put a million artificial intelligence-powered smart logistics vehicles onto the market.

According to mainland media, delivery volumes in China exceeded 80 million daily last year, driven by the growing popularity of online shopping.