Imagine getting your lunchbox delivered by an autonomous robot straight to your office. In China, it’s already happening. O2O giant Meituan Dianping has launched the Meituan Autonomous Delivery (MAD) Platform featuring driverless delivery vehicles that shuttle meals from restaurants to consumers.

The new MAD Platform was officially launched in Beijing, July 25th with Meituan Dianping’s co-founder and Senior Vice President Wang Huiwen introducing its new concept of intelligent delivery.

Wang Huiwen, co-founder and Senior Vice President of Meituan Dianping demonstrating Meituan’s autonomous delivery service (Image credit: TechNode/Masha Borak)

Meituan is already the largest on-demand food delivery player in China, according to the company. It handles 21 million orders daily in 2800 cities and counties. The company filed for an IPO in Hong Kong seeking to raise more than $4 billion at a valuation of $60 billion at the end of June.

The MAD Platform which is the “brain” of the new intelligent delivery project has been in trial since March. What’s more, the platform is open meaning that third-party AV operators will be able to use the system. Meituan is working with partners such as Uditech, Segway-GX, iDriverPlus, and Roadstar which have developed autonomous delivery vehicles for the platform. As Meituan’s autonomous deliver general manager and scientist Xia Huaxia said, the company hopes to work with enterprises, schools, and governments in the future.

Autonomous food delivery vehicles at the launch of Meituan Dianping’s MAD Platform (Image credit: TechNode/Masha Borak)

In the majority of cases, however, the system is not completely autonomous since it relies on good old-fashioned delivery drivers to move meals across greater distances. The MAD Platform is being tested in three destinations, including Joy City Mall in Beijing’s Chaoyang District, Lenovo’s offices in Shenzhen, and Songjiang university town in Shanghai, Meituan’s autonomous expert Xia explained.

For each destination, the model is slightly different. In Joy City Mall, Meituan’s autonomous vehicles pick up orders from restaurants and bring them to a collection point where the delivery drivers then take them over. In Lenovo’s office, the scenario is the opposite: the vehicles collect orders and distribute them across offices (yes, it uses the elevator by itself). Finally, the third scenario represents a full loop: the meals are delivered directly from merchants to consumers by the AVs. The Songjiang project is now delivering 1000 meal a day giving us a glimpse of what to what extent would students go not to leave their rooms.

Xia Huaxia, General Manager of the department for autonomous delivery at Meituan Dianping (Image credit: TechNode/Masha Borak)

Meituan is not the first to venture into autonomous delivery. Amazon has been testing drone delivery Prime Air and in March, the company patented its own autonomous delivery truck technology., one of China’s largest e-commerce platforms has also been testing delivering packages by drones. Dominos in New Zealand has also been betting on drones to deliver pizza while in Japan, robotics company ZMP has launched its own robot that can deliver sushi for up to 60 people.

Meituan, however, is hoping that the favorable government attitude towards autonomous driving technology will help its MAD Platform take off. Cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and others have already shown support for AV projects.

Meituan is also collaborating on the new project with Tsinghua University, University of California Berkeley, China Fortune Land Development, Beijing Innovation Center for Mobility Intelligent, Segway and DeepBlue Technology. The company also believes that in the future, the lack of workers will force traditional logistics to transform and they are hoping to “deliver everything for everyone everywhere.”

Among other guests, Meituan also invited the head of Waymo China, Wang Min; Gao Lixin, general manager of electric car maker Chery New Energy; and Li Yixiu, Vice President of automaker BAIC new energy vehicle department BJEV. This prompted TechNode to ask if Meituan is planning its own autonomous cars in the future. However, Meituan’s Xia Huaxia said that their focus is on autonomous delivery systems.

Masha Borak is a technology reporter based in Beijing. Write to her at masha.borak [at] Pitches with the word "disruptive" will be ignored. Read a good book - learn some more adjectives.

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