From four-wheeler to propeller, JD in pursuit of unmanned logistics network

JD seeks to build a drone network and deliver all purchases to anywhere in China within 24 hours.

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From four-wheeler to propeller, JD in pursuit of unmanned logistics network

E-commerce giant JD is taking a stride towards its ambition of 24-hour delivery for anything anywhere in mainland China.

Richard Liu, the billionaire founder of JD, showed off a video featuring JD’s newly developed unmanned delivery station the company billed as the first of its kind.

The delivery station will serve as a hub within JD’s smart delivery network. According to the JD video, courier drones will first drop off parcels at the station, which will then automatically organize and sort the parcels, readying them for robotic delivery. The station also doubles as a self-service post office.

With the smart delivery station, JD claimed to be expanding its smart delivery network to serve the countryside, islands, pastoral areas, communities, industrial parks, and office buildings.

 

Intelligent delivery network

Since 2007, JD has been operating its self-owned logistics system which the company identifies as a major pain point of its e-commerce business.

In 2017, its logistics unit JD Logistics became a standalone business and has secured in February this year a $2.5 billion Series A round from investors including Tencent, Hillhouse Capital, and Sequoia China. JD Logistics was valued at $13.4 billion after the round.

“This current funding round sets the stage for us to further invest in expanding our lead in the sector in areas like automation, drones and robotics,” said Richard Liu in a statement after the round.

To make the most out of the opportunities in unmanned delivery, in 2016, the company set up a dedicated department of smart logistics, JD X department that has rolled out drones, robot couriers, and staffless warehouses.

During the 618 mid-year sale this year, the Beijing-headquartered company sent out its robot couriers in Beijing to deliver merchandises and Richard Liu announced the company has managed to develop a heavy-duty drone capable of delivering payloads weighing 1-5 tons with a flight distance of over 1000 kilometers.

“We are going to create a drone network and build over 10,000 drone airports in China,” said Liu in an interview at the beginning of 2018, “The network will connect every Chinese village with drones which could deliver all purchases within 24 hours.”

 

From bikes to drones

In China, JD is not the only one in pursuit of unmanned logistics networks which is believed to be able to cut costs and improve efficiency.

Ahead of the 618 Shopping Festival, Cainiao, the logistics affiliate of JD archrival Alibaba, has unveiled a delivery station named Kuaidi Qingtianzhu, meaning delivery Optimus Prime in Mandarin, that is similar to the JD delivery station.

In May this year, Cainiao unveiled a driverless truck and a what it claimed to be the world’s first solid-state laser radar driverless car. The two types of vehicles will respectively be used for highway transportation and slow speed last mile delivery.

Another Chinese logistics giant SF Express has also bet on the unmanned logistics network. It has been granted with China’s first license for delivering goods via drones. In 2016, the company has spent $84 million (¥560 million) in R&D and obtained 64 drone patents in China as of May 2017.

 

Editor: Ben Jiang