Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Alibaba and RoboSense produce lidar-based driverless logistics vehicle

Steve Rogerson
June 5, 2018



Alibaba Group's Cainiao Network and RoboSense have jointly released G Plus, claimed to be the world's first solid-state lidar-based self-driving logistics vehicle.
 
Announced at Alibaba's Cainiao Network 2018 Global Smart Logistics Summit, the G Plus driverless delivery vehicle provides solid-state lidar technology, RS-Lidar-M1Pre, developed by China's RoboSense.
 
RoboSense and Alibaba will provide delivery vehicles with solid-state lidars for G Plus driverless logistics cars and lorries. The vehicles can be mass-produced, allowing rapid expansion of self-driving logistics vehicles and streamlining mass-market logistics. Driverless cars and lorries can be equipped with smart devices, for a courier vehicle, mobile self-pickup station, mobile coffee vending cart and so on for new retail scenarios.
 
G Plus is equipped with three RS-Lidar-M1Pres, two in front and one in the rear, to ensure 3D perception for driving. This allows vehicles to see the direction of travel: shape, distance, azimuth, travel speed and direction of travel of pedestrians, cars, lorries and so on, as well as exact areas to drive, ensuring smooth flow of self-driving logistics vehicles in complex road environments.
 
RS-Lidar-M1Pre is the first mems solid-state lidar launched by RoboSense. Presented at this year’s CES, the mems micro mirror scanning scheme requires only a few laser emitters and receivers to scan the mems micro-mirror in both directions because of the swing angle. Resolution is a fine, with high and vertical angle resolution of 0.2° throughout angle of view.
 
For traditional mechanical multi-beam lidar to achieve the same effect, they require more than a hundred laser transmitters and receivers to rotate and scan simultaneously, increasing costs and reducing yield and reliability.



Alibaba executive chairman Jack Ma (above) said the group would invest billions of dollars to build the technical backbone for a smart logistics network aimed at improving delivery reach and efficiency, as well as sharply driving down costs.
 
“This network is not only national, but global,” said Ma. “We want to connect every courier, connect every warehouse, every hub, every city and every house.”
 
Ma said the target of Cainiao Network was eventually to ensure single-day delivery across China and 72-hour delivery to the rest of the world. At present, Cainiao has reduced cross-border shipping times from an average of 70 days to less than ten days for some countries. Within China, Cainiao’s single-day and second-day delivery now covers 1500 counties and districts.
 
Alibaba and its logistic arm Cainiao Network are investing US$1.38bn in ZTO Express (Cayman), a fast-growing express delivery company in China, in exchange for an approximately ten per cent equity stake in the company.
 
The investment will see Cainiao and ZTO deepen their collaboration in the transformation of China's logistics industry amid the growth of new retail, a concept developed by Alibaba that promotes seamless integration between online and offline commerce.
 
"ZTO has been an important partner to Alibaba Group and Cainiao Network in the development of the new digital economy,” said Daniel Zhang, CEO of Alibaba Group and chairman of Cainiao Network. “The continuing expansion of new retail is catalysing new opportunities and demands in logistics. This strategic investment will strengthen synergies across our mutual businesses to create new value and improved experience for merchants and consumers."
 
The investment will support Cainiao and ZTO's focus on building up first and last-kilometre pickup and delivery capabilities, warehouse management, cross-border logistics and technology-driven smart services.
 
"The logistics industry in China is highly competitive with its own unique features and presents plenty of new opportunities ahead,” said Lin Wan, president of Cainiao Network. “This investment will enable Cainiao and ZTO to supercharge joint innovation and development to accelerate digitalisation of the industry. We will continue to work closely with industry leaders, including ZTO, to enhance our logistics infrastructure and broaden our service offerings to meet the growing demand from new retail."
 
ZTO service capabilities across China include line-haul, last-kilometre, express delivery, in-city delivery, fulfilment and warehousing. Propelled by the rapidly growing ecommerce industry and enabled by early strategic investments in its network infrastructure and technology and innovation, ZTO is expanding its capabilities and product offerings to contribute to the express delivery industry. Recent initiatives in building its logistics ecosystem in areas including LTL transportation services, international logistics and supply-chain management have shown meaningful progress and results.
 
"The growth of ecommerce and new retail in China demands more efficient express delivery and expanded logistics services,” said Meisong Lai, CEO of ZTO. ‘To that effect, we are delighted to enhance our partnership with Alibaba and Cainiao through their strategic investments in ZTO. This partnership will enable us to expand our selection of high quality service offerings both in China and internationally, and is fully aligned with our common interest in improving logistics efficiency and enhancing customer experience."
 
ZTO provides express delivery service as well as other value-added logistics services through its nationwide network coverage in China. It operates a scalable network partner model, which the company believes is best suited to support the significant growth of ecommerce in China. The company leverages its network partners to provide pickup and last-kilometre delivery services, while controlling the mission-critical line-haul transportation and sorting network within the express delivery service value chain.
 
"Built as an open platform based on a shared-success philosophy, ZTO has become one of the leaders in the express delivery industry in China,” Lai said. “Our continued collaboration with all industry constituents, and particularly with Alibaba and Cainiao through this strategic partnership, will amplify our competitive advantage and support our mission to become a world-class comprehensive logistics service provider."
 
New retail links online and offline commerce through deep consumer engagement based on insights drawn from technology and data analytics. Moving forward, new retail will require investment in smart supply chains, retail technologies, logistics and mobile payments. These investments are all aimed at delivering a better experience for consumers and merchants.
 
Cainiao’s technological innovation for the industry includes e-shipping labels and smart sorting. It has the capability to provide same-day and next-day delivery in nearly 1500 districts and counties in China, and now operates Cainiao Post, a network of last-kilometre stations covering communities in 100 cities and around 1800 university campuses across the country.
 
The transaction is expected to close in early June, subject to customary closing conditions.