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Is China Leading Logistics in Driverless Vehicle Technology?

This week both Alibaba Group and unveiled driverless vehicles vying to ferry parcels to customers’ doorsteps as consumer expectations for commerce accelerate the logistics arms race.

Through its Cainiao Network logistics unit, Alibaba Group launched the G Plus unmanned logistics vehicle, which it said is the world’s first such innovation created with partner RoboSense’s solid state LiDAR technology. The G Plus is built with three RS-LiDAR-M1Pres, two at the front and one at the rear, offering “enhanced 3D perception” for navigating roadways—a formidably complex environment. Not only does the LiDAR tech help the vehicle clearly detect other cars’ and pedestrians’ shape, distance and speed of travel, but it also aids the G Plus in mapping out a precise path to navigate.

Alibaba Group said its driverless vehicle is available in either car or truck form and can power novel retail models, such as a mobile coffee cart or a self-pickup station on wheels, in addition to providing last-mile delivery services.

According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), developed its new autonomous truck at a research center in the U.S., where it successfully completed 17,000 hours of road testing on public highways. The trucks are designed for long-haul operations. “The trucks still need to learn how to deal with traffic lights but can handle open road driving,” Xiao Jun, president of JD’s X-Business Division Xiao, told the SCMP. “We have drivers [on board] for when the trucks enter downtown areas and they take the cargo to the logistics centers, which are usually 10 kilometers from the freeway.”

Other Chinese firms are innovating in the automated-vehicle space. The SCMP said Suning has tested trucks with self-driving technology and TuSimple intends to launch its driverless vehicles into port logistics.

Under pressure to operate ever more cheaply, logistics and supply chain stakeholders have automated many aspects of the business to reduce expenses, and have been eyeing driverless vehicles as the next wave of cost-efficient automation. In the Western world, companies like Uber and Google’s Waymo are hellbent on popularizing self-driving automobiles for the consumer segment, while Tesla’s Semi division is also focused on logistics.