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JD.com to launch unmanned robot delivery fleet in quarantined Wuhan

The robots will allow receivers to collect packages using facial recognition.

Photo: Provided by JD.com

Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com’s logistics arm will launch robot delivery services in Wuhan, the quarantined epicenter of the coronavirus and capital of Hubei province, according to a press release from the company.

As human-to-human contact is discouraged across the country to reduce the risk of infection, JD Logistics said on Tuesday that it has finished testing the robots and has set their delivery routes in Wuhan.

Although JD.com did not provide details about the robots, the company has said it has already tested four-wheeled fully autonomous self-driving robots that can be loaded with up to 30 parcels to deliver packages within a 5km radius (see main picture, above). The robots will utilize facial recognition in handing off the packages.

The subsidiary of JD.com is also transferring robots from other cities to Wuhan to make sure unmanned delivery will be the “norm” within the virus-stricken city, said the firm.

In rural regions of Hebei, Shaanxi and Jiangsu provinces, also affected by the coronavirus, JD Logistics will also use drones for delivery in hard-to-reach areas.

In 2015, JD.com launched a research and logistics innovation lab to develop smart logistics and unmanned technologies including delivery drones, autonomous delivery robots, and automated warehouses, according to its website. The e-commerce giant first tested its autonomous delivery robots in university campuses, residential areas, and office buildings.

JD logistic arm introduced smart delivery stations in several cities in China in 2018. Running at full capacity, these stations—operating with both robots and couriers—can deliver up to 2,000 packages a day, said the company.

These smart technologies might help to sustain operations in the quarantined city of Wuhan, as JD.com is now prioritizing deliveries to medical institutions.

The 2019-nCov virus has claimed 490 lives after sickening 24,324 individuals in the Chinese mainland as of Tuesday, according to the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese government, medical staff, volunteers, and an array of companies are trying all means to help curb the social and economic impact of the virus.

JD.com said on its website that it has transported more than 2.36 million medical and epidemic prevention supplies, including masks, medical gloves, goggles, disinfectants, and other products to major hospitals in Wuhan, Huanggang, and other places in Hubei province by Sunday, according to JD.com’s website.