Two Chinese e-commerce giants are making separate moves that will see robots running packages around — and running restaurants — as automation continues to rise around the world.
First up: Alibaba just unveiled its new G Plus driverless delivery robot. According to The Verge, the robot can carry multiple packages of different sizes (or fresh food!), and can travel at up to 9.3 miles per hour. The robot uses LIDAR to build a 3D map and, if it detects people, it will slow down to 6.2 miles per hour. Upon arrival, it can either drop off the package or users can get their delivery through a PIN code. The G Plus is currently in use at Alibaba’s headquarters and will go into commercial production by the end of this year.
Alibaba also showed off a smart locker that can be installed outside a user’s apartment. The Cainiao uses facial recognition to unlock and can expand to accommodate different sized packages. What’s also pretty cool is that the temperature of the locker can be controlled remotely so a pizza delivered could be held warm, or produce kept cold, until retrieved.
Elsewhere, Nikkei Asian Review writes that JD.com, China’s second largest e-commerce company, will open 1,000 restaurants completely staffed by robots by the year 2020. Though a location hasn’t been determined yet, the first of these robo-restaurants will open in August. It will be roughly 400 sq. meters (~4,300 sq. ft.) and will serve 40 dishes from around China, with customers ordering and paying by smartphone.
Nikkei also points out that rising labor costs and rents are putting economic pressures on restaurants in China. Combine that with an impending labor shortage and robots are likely to play an increasingly important role around the country. But it’s not just in China; it’s projected that robots and other forms of automation could replace up to 66 million human workers around the world, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
In France, EKIM just raised €2.2 million to build its robot pizza restaurants. Here in the U.S. we already have a variety of robots working across various foodservice sectors: we have Starship’s delivery robots, standalone kiosks like Briggo serving coffee or Blendid whipping up smoothies, Penny the table-bussing robot, Flippy the burger-making robot, and even Spyce Kitchen, the fully autonomous robot restaurant in Boston.
Humans, however, are waking up to all the implications robots will bring about. San Francisco put the brakes on robot deliveries in that city, and in Las Vegas, members of the Culinary Workers Union voted to go on strike in a bid to get more protections against being replaced by robots.
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