Meituan (美团), China’s largest food delivery platform, became the first company to use autonomous carts for commercial delivery in a pilot scheme in downtown Shenzhen on February 5.
During the pilot, Meituan deployed an unspecified number of its brightly yellow mobile delivery vehicles to the streets of Shenzhen’s bustling Longhua District.
Users can have their purchases delivered right to their doorsteps by these carts within 30 minutes of placing an order with eligible merchants on the Meituan app.
After the vehicles arrive at a designated drop-off point, users can open the dual gull-wing doors from one side to remove their orders from the storage cabins.
Meituan said it will extend this service to cover adjacent residential neighborhoods after it becomes more mature.
Besides, the pilot will also expand in scope, involving a bigger fleet of carts, extended trial runs and longer operational hours, the company told media.
“With the growing maturity of technologies and operational capacity, residents will be able to first enjoy the 30-minute arrival service offered by Meituan’s mobile courier carts,” Li Da, a manager overseeing the internet giant’s unmanned cart delivery business, was quoted as saying.
“People will more and more often chance upon these carts in the streets and enjoy the convenience brought about by technology.”
Li added that Meituan can delegate a large chunk of its door-to-door delivery businesses to this gadget.
The company now looks to employ its fleet of carts to send fresh produce and medicine, with plans to add alcoholic beverages to its list of merchandise.
According to Li, this is the first time that Meituan landed the opportunity to test and operate its self-driving delivery vehicles in the heart of Shenzhen.
“In the long run, we plan to deploy hundreds of Meituan’s unmanned carts in Longhua, to help improve the district’s courier service,” he explained.
As with JD Group (京东集团), another e-commerce juggernaut, Meituan has invested huge resources over the years in upgrading its logistics networks through automation equipment like robot, drone and autonomous driving.
Li said the company overhauled the cart’s hardware and software systems to bolster its safety levels, to avoid collisions in real-life scenarios.
As of December 2023, its carts have been in service for four years, covering more than 100 residential communities nationwide and logging an aggregate 4 million delivery orders.