CES 2019: China's e-commerce giant JD launches smart delivery stations for drones and robots

JD.com operates the world's first fully-automated fulfillment center, and is expanding its use of autonomous vehicles for delivery.

CES chief Gary Shapiro predicts the biggest hits of 2019 show Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, talks to ZDNet's Jason Hiner about the biggest tech trends he expects to see at CES 2019.

Ahead of CES 2019, China's largest retailer JD.com launched two smart delivery stations to improve the e-commerce giant's autonomous capabilities via drone and robot deliveries, according to a press release.

The smart delivery stations, launched in the cities of Changsha and Hohhot, will house R&D, testing, and personnel training to find last-mile delivery solutions, the release noted. JD.com's robotic vehicles can autonomously deliver up to 30 packages at a time within a 3.1-mile radius, planning routes, avoiding obstacles, and recognizing traffic lights. The robots use facial recognition technology to ensure packages are delivered to the correct recipient.

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When running at full capacity, the two delivery stations will operate with 50% robots and 50% human delivery staff to deliver up to 2,000 packages per day, the release said. Today, JD's in-house logistics network covers 99% of China's population, and can deliver more than 90% of orders same- or next-day. The platform has more than 300 million active users.

JD.com has been a major player in China's retail and autonomous manufacturing and delivery space: The e-commerce platform uses drones to deliver consumer products and medical supplies to remote areas across the nation, and uses augmented reality (AR) software to allow customers to try on clothes, much like the Neiman Marcus and Suning do.

The website also operates the world's first fully-automated fulfillment center and is working with underground urban logistics to make shopping more convenient. In 2017, the company teamed up with a Chinese real estate developer to open fully-automated convenience stores—similar to Amazon Go.

These projects are all part of JD's vision for "Boundaryless Retail," in which consumers can purchase whatever they want, whenever and wherever they want it. The company is also working on a Retail as a Service (RaaS) strategy to scale up its technology and outsource its developments to third-party retailers worldwide, which could have major implications for US retailers, including Amazon.

JD's expansion into automated retail and delivery represents yet another issue for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, which have seen plummeting sales and store closures in recent years due to the rise of online shopping.

US companies are increasingly partnering with JD as well: In June, Google invested $550 million in the company to expand its own e-commerce efforts. Walmart has also owns a stake in the site, as it makes further moves into China.

"As China's largest retailer, JD is in the unique position of being able to research and develop, and commercially deploy, innovative new technology that is shaping the future of shopping worldwide," Chen Zhang, JD.com's CTO, said in the release. "As JD opens its technology up to other companies and industries, the features that we've already rolled out in China from automated warehouses to virtual shopping are going to be enjoyed by consumers everywhere."

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • China's largest retailer JD.com is opening two smart delivery centers to aid in drone and robotic delivery efforts.
  • JD.com's Retail as a Service strategy will likely impact US retailers in the future.

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Image: JD.com