The local government of Beijing on Tuesday granted the country’s first-ever permits for commercial deployment of delivery robots to JD.com, Meituan, and Neolix, allowing the companies to charge clients for driverless delivery services.
Why it matters: Robot vehicles are going into commercial use on Chinese city streets for the first time. It’s not the first time such vehicles will operate on city streets: China has previously granted permits to test passenger and commercial vehicles on city roads, and self-driving vehicles have gone into use in limited circumstances.
- Robot delivery services have previously been allowed to operate in geo-fenced areas such as university and industrial campuses.
- During lockdowns last February, local authorities in Beijing and Wuhan temporarily authorized Meituan and JD.com to use delivery robots delivering life and medical supplies to residents and hospitals on a limited set of public streets.
Details: Beijing-based tech giants JD.com and Meituan, as well as robotics startup Neolix, have been authorized to operate robot delivery services commercially within designated parts of the city’s Daxing district, state-owned media Beijing Daily reported Wednesday (in Chinese).
- The companies’ vehicles can operate on public streets in a designated area of 225 square kilometers, as well as the city’s mammoth new Daxing International Airport, and a 143-km stretch of highways, the report said. Robots face a speed limit of 15 kilometers per hour.
- Around 100 driverless cars deployed by JD.com and Meituan have begun delivering groceries to customers in the areas. Meanwhile, Neolix, backed by Chinese EV maker Li Auto, says that it expects to provide food delivery using a fleet of more than 150 vehicles by the end of June.
Context: The government is pushing automated passenger and freight transport services. Vehicle intelligence is one of the major goals of China’s current five-year plan, running to 2025.
- The Beijing municipal government earlier this year gave Baidu a green light to charge for rides on a fleet of 10 self-driving cars in an industrial park in the west of the city.
- Shenzhen in March started consultation on allowing companies to charge fees for their self-driving transport services in the city, expecting applications, such as last-mile delivery and robotaxis, to grow significantly over the next three to five years, Caixin reported (in Chinese).
- JD.com has been testing a fleet of 100 vehicles for grocery delivery in over 20 domestic cities, while Alibaba in March said its delivery robots have gone into operation into 15 university campuses in 11 cities.
With contributions from Emma Lee.