Meituan China’s leading e-commerce platform for services, introduced a new, self-developed drone model and announced plans for a drone logistics network pilot program in Shanghai. The announcement was made at the 2021 World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, where Meituan demonstrated how drones and delivery riders could conceivably work together to deliver orders.
In a partnership with local government, Meituan will explore opportunities for the construction of a demonstration center in Shanghai’s southwestern district of Jinshan; this center will run pilot operations for an urban low-altitude logistics network, the first of its kind to be established in China. The three-pronged network of drones, ground support infrastructure (landing ports, battery changing stations), and cloud-based dispatching systems will aim to achieve 15-minute delivery time for destinations within a three kilometer radius.
“Low-altitude logistics networks in urban areas will present an important growth opportunity for innovation and technology over the coming 10 to 20 years,” said Puzhong Wang, Meituan Senior Vice President and head of the company’s on-demand delivery business. “Our efforts reflect Meituan’s hopes to use inclusive technology and innovation to help people live better.”
“This network would enable us to adapt to different delivery scenarios across residential communities, shopping malls, office buildings, etc.,” said Yinian Mao, head of Meituan’s drone delivery unit. “We envision a collaborative, integrated network where our drones and delivery riders can work seamlessly together to deliver orders.”
Meituan began exploring drone delivery opportunities in 2017. In early 2021, Meituan’s efforts reached a milestone when its drones delivered meals to customers in Shenzhen for the first time. Riders would pick up orders from merchants and take them to drone launching pads for last-mile delivery. Drones would then deliver them to special drone drop-off lockers, after which users could scan QR codes to pick up the orders. In June, Meituan also used drones to deliver vital supplies to residents in Shenzhen’s Nanshan district, who were isolated by a COVID-induced quarantine.
As of June 2021, Meituan’s drones have completed over 200,000 flight tests and delivered over 2,500 orders. Meituan has now completed the preliminary development stages for its drones and dispatching systems, with over 90% of its core systems and components developed in house.