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Driverless Delivery Vans Are Here in China
Published on: 2019-05-30
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052Forget drones. The future of deliveries may be robo-vans.
 

A Chinese startup called Neolix kicked off mass production of its self-driving delivery vehicles Friday -- saying it’s the first company globally to do so -- and has lined up giants such as JD.Com Inc. and Huawei Technologies Co. as customers. Neolix expects to deliver a thousand of the vehicles, which resemble tiny vans, within the first year as it broadens out.

 999x 999The implications are potentially huge: Billionaire Jack Ma predicts there will be 1 billion deliveries a day in China within a decade and the commercialization of the technology could provide lessons for autonomous vehicles carrying passengers. Neolix isn’t alone in this space as Silicon Valley’s Nuro raised almost a billion dollars this year and is starting to deliver groceries in Arizona.

051Yu Enyuan, founder of Neolix, center.

Yu has been testing more than a hundred of the vehicles in enclosed areas such as Chinese campuses. The vehicles are priced similar to a regular car -- a Neolix van costs about $30,000.

053The entrepreneur, who was previously and inventor of smart tools for the logistics industry, said delivery of goods is just the start. Down the road, he envisages fleets of robo-vans providing everything from 24/7 mobile vending to help with running errands.

054While humans are trying to keep up and becoming more efficient with inventions such as smart lockers, there’s no doubt robots are becoming an increasing threat. With robo-vans, there’s no need for a messenger who will need a salary, and robo-vehicles are bound to have fewer accidents than humans.

050Beverages inside a Neolix vending machine vehicle.

One limitation: either a human needs to be present to accept the package, or the vehicle has to leave the parcel at a prearranged accessible location such as a ground-floor locker. One solution proposed by Ford Motor Co. is a small robot that walks on two legs to bring the parcel from the vehicle to the doorstep.
 

While self-driving cars that carry passengers still face significant regulatory obstacles, Yu says the path has been easier for unmanned delivery vehicles. The company’s vans are operating in the new Xiongan economic zone about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Beijing, as well as in limited areas of the capital and the city of Changzhou.

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