Although much has been reported recently about the possibility of flying drones delivering packages to customers, JD.com, a leading Chinese e-commerce company, is exploring an equally effective solution, albeit for a niche market: deploying robot couriers to deliver packages to university students.
As part of a pilot project, on June 18, 2017, students at six leading Chinese universities, including Tsinghua University, received items they had purchased from JD.com by robot couriers, according to China News Service.
The robot couriers appear to have four wheels, and are able to plan their routes with the assistance of an automatic navigation system, which also helps the robots avoid colliding with obstacles on the road. Additionally, the couriers follow preset routes and are even able to send messages to customers when they are 100 meters from their destinations. On top of all of this robust functionality, the robots can change their speed based on their environment: on college campuses, they travel at the speed of pedestrians, and also slow down before reaching speed bumps.
According to JD.com, university students will be the first customers to benefit from this new technology, which makes perfect sense. Not only are college students more likely to be open to new technology, but university campuses provide an ideal sandbox environment in which to experiment with robot couriers, given the relative lack of cars and other obstacles that would exist on busy roads.
As part of its promotional campaign, JD.com is set to open 1,300 delivery stations at universities across China. It is at these delivery stations that its goods will be loaded onto the robot couriers, to be delivered to students. If this campaign is successful, this could be a sign of things to come from other large retailers; namely, the possibility of robot couriers delivering packages to residents in towns and cities, and not just university campuses.