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Looking East at the Future of Logistics

Looking East at the Future of Logistics
April 15, 2021

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Although we have written many times about autonomous vehicles and about robotics, including those used for logistics, the most advanced robotics use-cases are in the East. The logistics arm of Alibaba, Cainiao, has been pioneering warehouse automation within China, as online shopping has been spurred on by its parent company’s growing e-commerce platform, Taobao. The e-commerce sector, worth $1.9TN (three times the size of the US market), delivers 64BN parcels per year in China alone.

Photo credit: Cainiao

Automation in the warehouse
China’s smartest warehouse, according to Cainiao, is located in Wuxi, China. The warehouse is home to 700+ automated guided vehicles (AGVs) that are equipped with WiFi and self-charge. Each robot is like a large Roomba vacuum cleaner, sweeping through a 3,000 square meter warehouse to carry up to 500 kilograms of goods across the warehouse. This dynamic means that when someone makes an online purchase in China, the AGV is activated to pick up the order within the warehouse so that human warehouse staff can assemble and ship it out. See the video.

Not just in the warehouse
Xiao G is Cainiao’s delivery cart of the future. Every hour, the 3x5 foot autonomous vehicle -- complete with sensor technology to safely navigate roads -- will pick up packages from a delivery depot in Hangzhou and tour a nearby neighborhood to make its delivery runs. Locals meet the driverless cart at a delivery point, pin in a reference number to open up the designated door flap and pick up their purchased online goods.

Expanding overseas
Cainiao isn’t just targeting operations in China. It is also forming alliances with foreign partners to expand its business overseas. It’s already able to deliver a 2-lb package for around 30 cents within 24 hours in China, but it won’t be long, it claims, before it will be able to deliver the same package anywhere globally within 72 hours for just $3.

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