Hangzhou, China, November 11 — Alibaba and their logistics branch Cainiao are working together with the Zhejiang University to field-test an autonomous delivery vehicle with potential learning capabilities. They testing this out for all parcels that were ordered during the Singles’ Day discount event and are to be delivered to students who live in dorms within the university campus.
What is Singles’ Day about?
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are important economic events in the western market but there are similar discount events as well in China that drive a lot of ecommerce sales. For instance, there is the Chinese Singles’ Day or Guanggun Jie on the 11th of November.
Singles’ Day has generated $17.8b in 2016 and $25.3b in 2017, each on a single day. That’s a greater figure than many countries’ ecommerce sales total for a whole year. Alibaba has started this annual event in 2009 but many others have started joining this event with their own discount programs. In 2012 Alibaba has registered the term “双十一” (meaning “Double 11) as a trademark in China and enforces legal action against competitors who also use this same term in their advertising.
Close-up of the lockers on the vehicle: Could this mean “AI”?
How to handle the logistics?
You might be wondering how all those parcels are delivered on time. Logistics companies as we know some aren’t famous for leveraging cutting edge tech or other innovation to get large numbers of items to where they need to be. In China, they usually manage logistics very well. They are slowly adapting to automation and robotics but those experiments are not ready to fully cover such special events entirely relying on the tech.
Autonomous delivery robot is being tested at ZJU
At the Zhejiang University (ZJU), they are experimenting with an autonomous delivery vehicle that roams around the urban campus of about 1.7 square miles. The idea behind that is to let the vehicle learn where the students commonly are at what time of the day to improve the efficiency of the solution. For example, it could move to a dorm area in the morning and remain stationary for students to take out their parcels as they pass by the vehicle in the morning on their way to the lecture, and drive to the cafeteria around lunchtime.
It is planned that the students will also have the ability to communicate with the delivery vehicle via a smartphone app or a similar kind of web platform. The ZJU is the only university with such a test run right now and it’s in an early stage, but it could already be seen around the time of the Singles’ Day.
The vehicle itself has been provided by Cainiao, a logistics subsidiary of Alibaba. Taking into account that both the university and Alibaba are located in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, it makes sense to deploy experimental vehicles in a ring-fenced environment. A test run, such as this one at the ZJU, could be an indication of the intent to deploy similar solutions for other urban or even rural areas to improve the delivery efficiency. I’d love to see an autonomous vehicle such as this in the future too. What do you think about this?