The economic issue in the delivery sector is pressing: the average cost per driver has increased between 1 yuan and 1.5 yuan in recent years
The explosive growth of e-commerce and food delivery services has challenged the global logistics industry to cut costs, particularly in the last part of the shipments, commonly referred to as the “last mile”. Segway-Ninebot, a Chinese start-up that deals with delivery, could have the solution: autonomous delivery robots.
While the average price of home delivery parcels in China has dropped to 11.9 yuan RMB ($ 1.66) from 24.6 yuan in recent years, the average cost per driver has increased between 1 yuan and 1.5 yuan. Reducing this expense is, therefore, an absolute priority.
Founded in 2015 through the acquisition of Segway Inc. – US producer of the promising two-wheeled transporter – the Chinese startup initially focused on the development of scooters and service robots equipped with artificial intelligence.
Subsequently, the field of action expanded in the field of logistics, with the release of the Segway S1 delivery robot, in connection with the Chinese food delivery operators Meituan-Dianping and Ele.me. In August, the startup launched its second-generation Segway S2 indoor robot along with Segway X1 for outdoor deliveries.
Segway S2 is designed for short trips around offices, department stores, hotels, hospitals and other indoor facilities. For industrial parks, school campuses and other outdoor environments, the Segway X1 instead uses an autonomous navigation system to deliver packages.
Segway-Ninebot employs a large number of engineers for continuous software development
Moreover, Segway-Ninebot has also thrilled investors. In October 2017, in fact, it raised $ 100 million in a C series, helping to push its current valuation to over $ 1.5 billion.
The company, in the face of this great recognition of trust, employs a large number of engineers, many of whom are involved in the development of a simultaneous visualization and mapping algorithm: VSLAM. This is essential for route planning and the removal of obstacles.
These studies have led to the creation of delivery robots that can identify obstacles and operate for many hours. Furthermore, the entire delivery process can be controlled and monitored remotely, reducing labour costs.
To further reduce costs, Segway-Ninebot can also count on its own supply chains for Segway S2 production. According to company officials, this reduces the cost of the robot by 30% compared to similar vehicles of its competitors.
Trials of Segway-Ninebot delivery robots are already underway in various locations in Beijing and Shanghai
Trials of the Segway-Ninebot delivery robots are already underway in various locations in Beijing and Shanghai and in various sectors, including door-to-door parcel delivery and peak-time food delivery. So far, the tests have covered almost 5,000 km and have shown a drastic reduction in delivery costs in the last mile to 0.05 yuan from 1.5 yuan.
Despite its success, Segway-Ninebot is facing strong competition from US startups such as Starship Technologies, Marble, Nuro and Dispatch Robotic. They all hope to meet the growing demand from logistics companies for cheap and reliable delivery robots.
It has also been challenged in China by other national startups, since Alibaba, JD.com, Suning.com and others have announced plans to build delivery robot fleets for the important “last mile”.
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