Image credit: Alibaba

E-commerce giant Alibaba is preparing for the rush of the upcoming Singles Day, which falls on November 11, by opening what is said to be the country’s biggest robotic warehouse.

On October 25, Alibaba’s logistics affiliate Cainiao Network opened the warehouse, which is located in Wuxi, in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu. The facility will help cope with increasing demand, the company said in a statement, adding that it handled 812 million orders during last year’s shopping festival.

“It was only five years ago that parcel orders surpassed 100 million for the first time,” Cainiao Vice President Ben Wang said.

Since then Singles Day has grown, pulling in more than $25 billion in sales for Alibaba last year. Sales are mainly made over flagship platforms Taobao and Tmall, although the e-commerce titan also offers international services and shipping.

The new warehouse is positioned as an Internet of Things-powered, “robotic smart warehouse” with close to 700 automated vehicles such as the ones in the video below (click here for a more up-to-date version).

YouTube video

The IoT component will aid in steering the robots, helping them avoid collisions and “intelligently distribute parcels,” according to a statement from the company.

IoT is also a key part of the “Future Park” complex that surrounds the new warehouse, Wang stated in a follow-up interview with TechNode.

“The whole park is underpinned by Internet of Things technology, connecting people inside and outside the facility, handling vehicle guidance and the operation of equipment and monitoring systems to ensure, for example, there’s no danger of fire,” he said. “That can all be managed intelligently through a mobile phone.”

According to Wang, the smart warehouse can fulfill 50% more orders than a traditional one within the same timeframe. He didn’t elaborate on how it differs from Alibaba’s other robot-powered delivery hubs.

Photo credit: Alibaba

Although the new warehouse will employ relatively fewer people than a traditional one, “going completely unmanned isn’t foremost in our minds,” Wang added.

Ahead of Singles Day, Alibaba has also launched a cloud-based video monitoring system for shipping partners like ZTO and YTO Express. According to Wang, it’ll identify “potential problems” more quickly than human station managers, avoiding delays in processing and increasing productivity.

Bailey Hu is based in China’s hardware capital, Shenzhen. Her interests include local maker culture, grassroots innovation and how tech shapes society, as well as vice versa.

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