China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba not only wants to be the best e-commerce player in the market, but also wants to deepen its technological prowess.
At Alibaba’s annual Computing Conference 2017 held in Hangzhou on October 11th, not only did the company unveil its plans to invest $15 billion over the next 3 years in its R&D, but they also showcased their technology developments to its visitors to give them a glimpse of the future in a way that they can easily understand their technology and actually try out the technology for themselves.
Alibaba’s technology developments in internet car, smart logistics, and smart mirror is powered by its partnered companies or the startups that Alibaba previously backed. On November 11th last year, China’s Single’s day, the e-commerce behemoth showed off its robotics, AI, AR, and VR developments.
Alibaba’s top competitor JD is also pushing its technology, as they officially debuted their first full-scale unmanned warehouse (in Chinese) in Shanghai on October 9th. The entire warehouse doesn’t have a porter, sorting staff or packing staff, and is powered by solar panels on the roof, charging the power during the day and storing the power at night.
Alibaba’s internet car – Banma Network Technology
Alibaba’s internet car has a lot to do with Banma Network Technology, a joint venture between Alibaba Group and SAIC Motor Corp. Banma showcased “AliOS”, the newly-launched operating system offering OS solutions for mobile, industrial and IoT devices, with various functions such as purchasing items and parking their car. Currently, three Chinese car brands MG (名爵), Roewe (荣威), and MAXUS (上汽大通) are using Banma, and their more than 250,000 cars are running in China now. Alibaba announced last week the release of AliOS-enabled cars with Dongfeng Peugeot Citroen Automobile Company starting next year.
The core technology behind Banma is data converged computing based on AliOS. Banma’s navigation map uses GPS and ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistant System) which help users not to pay that much attention to driving. By aggregating the GPS data from users’ destinations, the car understands driver’s habits and consumption patterns and knows which shops and places they like to go, and its reaction will be customized to the driver: For example, if a user buys a movie ticket, then the car will ask if the driver wants to go to the theater, send out coupons when the driver is going to restaurant, and provide parking data that matches the user’s parking habit.
Banma’s man-machine interaction system is based on voice recognition.
“Siri is based on the phone, and users can just type the message in using their hands. When you are driving, your hands are on the handle, but you can perform a lot of things with your voice,” Zhang Li, senior visual designer at Banma told TechNode.
Virtual fitting room – Haomaiyi (好买衣)
To allow its customers to try on as many outfits as possible, without the hassle of putting on and taking off clothes, Alibaba has strategically partnered with Shanghai-based Haomaiyi (好买衣), a virtual fitting room startup. Customers can visit an offline shop and try on clothes by just tapping the clothes on the screen of smart mirror, and the 3D image on the mirror can demonstrate 90% of the customer try-on look. Now smart mirrors are used in two global fashion brands’ brick and mortar stores in China, and the same can be done online through their app Haoda (好搭) and dozens of merchants on Tmall. By aggregating user’s purchasing data, Haomaiyi aims to give AI-driven fashion recommendation to its customers in the future.
Smart coffee robot
Connecting data with Swedish-Swiss robotics ABB, Alibaba’s ET industrial brain intelligently analyzes the real-time data of robots and enhances their work efficiency. Firstly, it collects operational data of robots, building up a defect prediction model, and reduces downtime ratio. Secondly, it optimizes robot’s large-scale collaborative operation and improves the efficiency of a production line.
Smart logistics – Quicktron
In order to improve its efficiency of logistics, Alibaba invested in Quicktron, a Shanghai-based company that provides smart order picking system. Their artificial intelligence algorithm-based solution consists of mobile robots, mobile racks, as well as replenishment and picking stations to complete a task. The intelligent order fulfillment system incorporates shelf locating, product pickup, replenishing, returning and stock counting. Robots and systems are equipped with intelligent machine learning. When a robot receives an order, it selects the optimal route to the shelve that stores the goods, seamlessly adapt to the operation environment, and avoid obstacles. The system helps improve robot’s independent decision-making capability, inventory conversion rate, and client’s order optimization and warehouse optimization. The startup now works with Alibaba, JD, and vip.com.
VR – Kujiale (酷家乐)
One category of product that the customers are reluctant to make a prompt purchase online is furniture because they are just not sure about its size and how it will fit in their house. Alibaba’s partner and solution provider Kujiale (酷家乐) is an interior design VR company providing online 3D interior decoration rendering software. Using their solution, users can wear VR headsets to easily browse furniture in a virtual house and purchase them online. The Hangzhou-based startup owns proprietary ExaCloud rendering technology, which enables users to complete interior planning in 5 minutes by rendering as fast as within 10 seconds. Specializing in cloud-based distributed computing and computer graphics, the company claims that it improves retailer’s furniture sales by providing a unique onsite user experience.