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Meituan makes first grocery deliveries in Beijing with driverless vehicles

The vehicles can complete deliveries within a 5 km radius.

An experimental unmanned vehicle from Meituan makes a delivery. Source: Meituan press release

China’s delivery giant Meituan Dianping has started to use unmanned vehicles in Beijing to deliver groceries to its customers, the company announced on Tuesday.

The new service will be limited to residents in Beijing’s Shunyi district, and similar autonomous delivery services will be later launched in Haidian district, said Meituan.

After customers place orders on the Meituan app, an intelligent distribution system will assign orders to driverless vehicles, which will pick up and deliver the goods to pick-up stations at the final destinations. Customers can collect the delivery from the stations without any human contact during the whole process, said the company.

The autonomous vehicles have been put into use for almost one week, covering three residential communities near Meituan’s pickup station in Shunyi. The vehicles can complete deliveries within a 5 km radius, Meituan told KrASIA.

This is the first time that Meituan has used unmanned vehicles to complete delivery orders on open roads, the company said. Previously, Meituan started to test last August indoor robot delivery in office buildings and hotels in Beijing and Shenzhen, KrASIA reported.

As the coronavirus is forcing millions of people to stay at home in big Chinese cities, Meituan is experiencing a manpower shortage for delivery orders. Daily sales on Meituan Grocery, the delivery giant’s grocery retail service, have surged by 200-300% in Beijing compared to figures from before the epidemic, said Meituan.

The firm will continue the unmanned delivery service after the coronavirus outbreak, adding more types of goods including food, medicine, and daily necessities.

Many Chinese companies have also launched unmanned delivery services to reduce human contact during the outbreak. Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com’s logistics arm has already rolled out robot deliveries by using four-wheeled fully autonomous self-driving robots that can be loaded with up to 30 parcels, able to deliver packages within a 5 km radius.

SF Express, the largest private courier in China, has used drones to transport medical supplies to hospitals in Wuhan, the quarantined epicenter of the coronavirus and capital of Hubei province.