Meituan, a leading local life services platform in China, on September 18 attended the 2022 World Intelligent Connected Vehicles Conference (WICV), where it unveiled a new generation of automatic distribution vehicles. The firm also announced that its National Operation Center of Automated Delivery Vehicles is settled in Shunyi District, Beijing.
At the conference, Xia Huaxia, Vice President of Meituan and General Manager of its Automated Delivery Vehicle Department, gave a speech. Xia believes that high-level automated driving is still in the period of regional large-scale commercial exploration, and that it will realize large-scale commercial operations through three steps.
The first step is to complete technical exploration and verify the technical feasibility of each application scenario from around 2016 to 2021. The second step, happening from 2021 to 2025, will complete regional large-scale commercial exploration, with automated driving technology, policies and business models getting matured; The third step, starting from 2025, will see automated driving entering the stage of large-scale implementation and operations in full scenarios.
However, the large-scale implementation of automatic distribution urgently needs further maturity of technology. Compared with automated driving trucks and robotaxis, automated delivery vehicles always face more diverse obstacles and more complex traffic situations when operating in the city. For example, automatic delivery vehicles often need to cross extremely narrow roads and frequently deal with various traffic violations.
At the conference site, Xia played a video of an automated delivery vehicle of Meituan providing daily operation services in a local area. In the video, on the way back to the station after completing the distribution task, an automated delivery vehicle successfully avoided several vehicles and several pedestrians moving in reverse through repeated deceleration and avoidance and repeated fine-tuning of driving direction. It also safely passed through a narrow road section over ten meters long with many vehicles parked on both sides.
Xia said, “For high-level autonomous driving technology to truly enter the third step and realize large-scale commercial operation in full scenarios, it still faces three challenges. It first has to solve the long-tail problem of autonomous driving, then improve the automatic loading and door-to-door delivery that enhances the user experience, and maintain and charge those vehicles in time. The solution to these problems still needs the joint efforts of the whole industry chain.”
In recent years, on-demand retail has become a popular consumption trend, and the market scale of on-demand distribution has been increasing. According to a forecast by the World Economic Forum, compared with 2021, the global demand for last-mile distribution in urban areas will increase by 78%, the number of vehicles used for automatic distribution will increase by 36%, and the automatic distribution market will reach a trillion-yuan scale.