Google announced today that it is investing $550 million into Chinese e-commerce company JD.com. Many of the takes surrounding the deal have focused on the access Google will get to the Chinese market (and JD to the American market), and how the deal is an attempt by Google to claw back some product search traffic from Amazon.
Yes, yes, yes. That’s all very important, but let’s take a moment to appreciate something else this investment means: Google is getting into the robot restaurant business! Kinda.
Earlier this month we wrote:
“…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.”
But JD’s robot ambitions aren’t relegated to restaurants. As Axios wrote last week, JD “has built a big new Shanghai fulfillment center that can organize, pack and ship 200,000 orders a day. It employs four people — all of whom service the robots.”
That type of automation is certainly very Amazonian, and perhaps one that could be licensed here in the States much the same way Kroger bought into Ocadao’s robot warehouse technology.
The JD investment becomes even more interesting as it relates to Amazon when you consider the other relationships Google’s been forming. It partnered with Walmart last year for virtual assistant shopping. Just this month, Google partnered with European grocery giant Carrefour SA for online grocery shopping and same-day delivery in France.
Now, before you — well, I — get too excited over the idea of a JD robot restaurant host taking reservations from the human-sounding Google Duplex AI, Google’s investment in JD amounts to just 1 percent of the shopping site, and there are much bigger fish to robotically fry than a restaurant chain that hasn’t actually opened yet.