Meituan plans drone logistics trial in Shanghai

  • July 12, 2021
  • Steve Rogerson

Chinese ecommerce company Meituan has introduced a self-developed drone model and is planning a drone logistics network pilot programme in Shanghai.

The announcement was made at the 2021 World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, where Meituan demonstrated how drones and delivery riders could work together to deliver orders.

In a partnership with local government, Meituan plans to explore opportunities for the construction of a demonstration centre in Shanghai’s southwestern district of Jinshan; this centre will run pilot operations for an urban low-altitude logistics network, the first of its kind to be established in China.

The three-pronged network of drones, ground support infrastructure such as landing ports and battery changing stations, and cloud-based dispatching systems will aim to achieve 15-minute delivery time for destinations within a 3km radius.

“Low-altitude logistics networks in urban areas will present an important growth opportunity for innovation and technology over the coming ten to twenty years,” said Puzhong Wang, Meituan senior vice president. “Our efforts reflect Meituan’s hopes to use inclusive technology and innovation to help people live better.”

Meituan began exploring drone delivery opportunities in 2017. In early 2021, its efforts reached a milestone when its drones delivered meals to customers in Shenzhen for the first time. Riders would pick up orders from merchants and take them to drone launching pads for last-kilometre delivery. Drones would then deliver them to special drone drop-off lockers, after which users could scan QR codes to pick up the orders. In June, Meituan also used drones to deliver vital supplies to residents in Shenzhen’s Nanshan district who were isolated by a Covid-induced quarantine.

Meituan’s drones have completed more than 200,000 flight tests and delivered over 2500 orders. The company has completed the preliminary development stages for its drones and dispatching systems, with over 90% of its core systems and components developed in house.

“This network would enable us to adapt to different delivery scenarios across residential communities, shopping malls, office buildings and so on,” said Yinian Mao, head of Meituan’s drone delivery unit. “We envision a collaborative, integrated network where our drones and delivery riders can work seamlessly together to deliver orders.”

Meituan owns several household brands in China, including the Meituan online marketplace for services, Dianping online destination for discovering local services, Waimai for on-demand delivery services, and Meituan Bikes for bike-sharing services. It has 569.3 million annual tansacting users and 7.1 million annual active merchants, and operates in over 2800 cities and counties in China.