Meituan tests unmanned delivery with robots in Beijing and Shenzhen

China’s largest food delivery service platform says it could help improving delivery efficiency and speed.

Photo by Luisa Rusche on Unsplash. Modified by KrASIA.

If you live in Beijing and Shenzhen, robots and drones may soon be delivering your takeaway lunch orders.

Meituan, China’s largest food delivery service platform, is currently testing indoor robot delivery in ten office buildings and hotels in Beijing and Shenzhen, and already delivered thousand of orders, Xia Huaxia, chief scientist of Meituan, said on the sideline of the World Artificial Intelligence Conference held in Shanghai last Thursday.

Xia also said that robots and humans would be working together in delivering orders in the foreseeable future, according to the Paper.

Meituan, which currently has more than 600,000 delivery drivers, first set up a team to develop unmanned delivery services in October 2016. The move was intended to respond to rising labor demands and overall costs of operations.

The company, which handles more than 25 million daily orders, is forecasted to see its delivery service grow by 200% by 2025, according to Xia.

Two of the robots being tested are developed by Meituan itself. Xiaodai, an outdoor transportation robot, can roam around gated compounds and claims to be able to choose the best delivery routes and avoid obstacles on the road. Fudai, the company’s indoor delivery robot, works mainly inside hotels and office buildings, and can bring food orders to users on different floors by using elevators.

Delivery drivers, on average, spend five to ten minutes on waiting for pickups or looking up for users when they deliver to an office building or hotel address. With the help of indoor delivery robots, Meituan seeks to cut delivery time by five to seven minutes per order, thus significantly improving delivery efficiency.

“We have done the calculation. If a delivery robot’s work life can last three years, the cost [of the robot] will not be higher than the labor cost,” Xia said.

Meituan also plans to build its drone delivery network in the next five years. The drones would be able to deliver orders to users in a 5 km range within 10 minutes, the company said.