The company counts some 400 million users of its food delivery service, handling more than 25 million orders a day. The service is expected to grow more than 200% by 2025. By using robots, Meituan is hoping to speed up delivery times and cut costs. Like many Asian countries, China is facing a labor shortage and many companies are turning to artificial intelligence to help fill the gap.
“We have done the calculation. If a delivery robot’s work life can last three years, the cost of the robot will not be higher than the labor cost,” said Xia Huaxia, chief scientist of Meituan.
Meituan Began Developing Delivery Robots in 2016
Meituan, which currently has more than 600,000 delivery drivers, first set up a team to develop autonomous delivery robots in October 2016. During this testing, they will be using two robots, Xiadai and Fudai.
Xiaodai is an outdoor transport robot which will make deliveries around office parks and gated hotels. Onboard sensors and GPS help it choose the most efficient routes and avoid anything that may get in its way. Fudai will be focusing on indoor deliveries. It will use lifts to get into elevators and climb stairs to access different floors.
Company Also Developing Delivery Drones
According to Meituan, human drivers spend five to ten minutes waiting for users to grab their food when they are at a hotel or office. By using the delivery robots to take the order directly to the customer they hope to cut delivery time by five to seven minutes per order.
The company is not stopping with robots. They plan to incorporate drones in the next few years, delivering orders to customers in a 3-mile range within ten minutes.