Alibaba Group Delivery Robot Xiaomanlv

China Continues to Outpace the West in Online Shopping Innovations With Latest Delivery Robots Deployment

The Alibaba Group said it plans to deploy 1,000 delivery robots across university campuses and local communities in China over the next year. It’s goal is to deliver packages faster, cheaper, and more efficiently.

In addition to the delivery robots, known as ‘Xiaomanlv,’ Alibaba’s research arm, DAMO Academy, will work with the group’s logistics arm Cainiao to develop larger, self-driving delivery trucks to support a wider delivery radius with autonomous vehicles large and small.

“Autonomous driving technology is becoming a core technology in the digital era,” Alibaba’s Chief Technology Officer Cheng Li said.

According to the China’s Post Office, package deliveries surpassed 40 billion across mainland China to date in 2021, closing in on the total of deliveries for all of 2017. The rapid rise over the last year can be attributed to the Covid crisis, but online commerce had seen huge growth in China even before last year’s start of the pandemic.

The Alibaba Group’s decision to launch at university campuses makes a lot of sense as the company said young shoppers are big users of its digital commerce sites such as Taobao and Tmall. Once the orders arrive at the Cainiao substations within the campus and neighborhoods, robots will deliver the orders to the buyer.

The first campuses and communities to see the delivery robots in their neighborhood will be in Hangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing.

Western Deployment of Delivery Robots Far Behind

This appears to be the largest scale deployment of delivery robots yet. Both Amazon (Amazon Scout) and FedEx (FedEx SameDay Bot) have run pilot programs with delivery robots, but expansion has been slow to date.

The deployment of at least 1,000 robots in tightly controlled communities such as Universities seems to be a good first, more extensive test to see if the technology is acceptable to shoppers.

In general, Chinese shoppers seemed to have embraced shopping technology more quickly with social commerce live-streaming now getting noticed in North America and Europe.

It’s been eight years since Jeff Bezos unveiled drones as a futuristic delivery solution for Amazon on CBS’s 60 minutes news magazine.

Yet, despite what appeared to be a groundbreaking idea, drone deliveries have not moved past very small test areas, and none have been deployed at a scale that would be close to the new Alibaba delivery robots rollout.

At this rate, one had to wonder where China will be in eight years with autonomous deliveries versus the West. It’s not looking promising.

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