Meituan Dianping, China’s on-demand services titan, has started using driverless vehicles to deliver fruits and vegetables to residents in Beijing’s Shunyi district since consumers have turned to online grocery shopping in a big way due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
This is the first time that Meituan Dianping has used driverless vehicles to deliver real orders on open roads, The Paper reported today, citing the Beijing-based company. Two vehicles are being used in Shunyi. They will soon be deployed in Haidian district as well, the report said.
Sales have risen significantly during the virus epidemic, with the daily peak in Beijing two to three times higher than before the Chinese New Year holiday, according to data from Meituan Maicai, the company’s grocery retail arm.
Due to surging orders, Meituan Maicai is facing a shortage of sorters and packers as well as deliverymen. Two of its sites in Shunyi, for example, serve nearly 100,000 users in the surrounding 86 communities and are in urgent need of deliverymen. That is stoking the need for unmanned deliveries.
Meituan’s intelligent distribution system assigns orders to the autonomous vehicles which pick up items at Meituan Maicai’s outlets and then head out to delivery sites at their destinations. Residents collect their orders from delivery boxes, with no human contact during the whole process.
For now, the unmanned delivery vehicles are mainly being used to help in controlling the epidemic, Meituan said, adding that it plans to contact other potential users. The use of such vehicles depends on several factors, such as whether an area’s roads are open to driverless vehicles and whether indoor places can meet a robot’s space requirements, the company said.
Meituan will continue the service after the epidemic ends and add food takeout, articles of daily use and medicines and expand coverage to offer convenience to more people, it said.