It’s been said that some retailers operate more like tech companies. Amazon’s usually the first to mind, but China’s JD.com holds that post, too.
JD.com’s investments in artificial intelligence (AI) applications through its engineering teams in China, plus its Silicon Valley Lab, have led to real-world developments in intelligent supply chains, state-of-the-art robotics, high-tech drones and more.
But China’s largest retailer sees the opportunity to accelerate AI and blockchain R&D. The company just unveiled its Beijing-based AI Catapult accelerator that will partner with emerging blockchain startups to trial their technologies and test them at scale in real-world environments.
AI Catapult’s initial cohort includes a diverse range of startups with focused strengths: like Devery out of Australia’s blockchain for product verification, blockchain for e-commerce payments as London-based Nuggets has used, Australian CanYa’s cryptocurrency, a database built on blockchain from Singapore’s Bluezelle, and fintech from China’s Bankorous.
“JD is in a unique position to explore the potential of AI and blockchain in global commerce,” said Bowen Zhou, vice president of JD.com’s AI platform and research division.
As Intel’s Rachel Mushahwar, general manager and head of Americas industries, government, enterprise, and cloud, told a room full of apparel insiders on March 1 at the AAFA Executive Summit, companies that invest in R&D send a message to both shareholders and customers that they see change coming on the horizon and are prepared to be part of the next wave. However, the top 250 retailers spend less on R&D than Apple, she added.
Technology investments all too soon could be a key differentiator between the retailers that thrive and those that are left behind.
AI Catapult will be useful in helping JD’s AI research division leverage artificial intelligence to build a better blockchain in terms of privacy, security, scalability, efficiency and energy consumption. According to estimates from Morgan Stanley, the original blockchain algorithm could consume more energy this year than all of Argentina. A number of companies and institutions, from Intel to MIT, are investing heavily in research to find a greener blockchain to meet enterprise demand.
AI Catapult is just the latest in JD.com’s continued investments in artificial intelligence. The company reported last month a partnership with Fung Retailing to open the AI Boundaryless Retail Center, which will focus on developing a new, AI-driven retail format for the Asian market.