obtained permits

Alibaba is working with its logistics arm Cainiao to develop self-driving trucks, signaling long-distance freight ambitions to match its development of robots for last-mile deliveries.

That was the message from Alibaba Chief Technology Officer Cheng Li at the 2021 Global Smart Logistics Summit held on Thursday, according to a statement received by Caixin.

The move comes as competition heats up in the self-driving vehicle industry, with more and more players starting to explore how to make better use of their technologies in the trucking business. The moves stem from a widely held notion that trucks, unlike passenger vehicles, are low-hanging fruit in a push to make money from self-driving technology because they operate under less complex driving conditions such as on highways.

The statement did not provide details about its plan for developing autonomous trucks. And an Alibaba representative declined to comment on the matter when contacted by Caixin.

However, the statement revealed that Cainiao plans to deploy 1,000 logistics Xiaomanlü robots on Chinese university campuses and in residential communities over the next year.

Xiaomanlü, meaning “little workaholic donkey” in Chinese, was introduced by Alibaba last September for use by Cainiao in delivering orders on the last mile of their journey. The robot is powered by a deep learning and high-definition positioning system that enables it to plan delivery routes, identify obstacles, predict pedestrian movements and operate in spite of a weak GPS signal, according to Alibaba.

Apart from Alibaba, JD.com and Meituan are also trialing their last-mile robot-enabled delivery services. Last month, the two companies obtained permits to test their driverless delivery vehicles on several designated public roads of Beijing, where the government has rolled out policies to promote the future commercialization of the technology.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (yiding@caixin.com) and editor Heather Mowbray (heathermowbray@caixin.com)


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