Friday, May 25, 2018

Chinese Logistics Group Takes to the Highway in Autonomous Road Haulage Truck

Latest Weapon in Automated Supply Chain Passes Shanghai Driving Test
Shipping News Feature
CHINA – Suning Logistics, the retail logistics subsidiary of Chinese commercial giant Suning Holdings Group, says it has completed road testing for its inscrutably named 'Strolling Dragon' autonomous heavy-duty truck. The company together with its subsidiary TTK Express Company which it bought last year, possesses 6.28 million m2 of warehouse space with a delivery network covering 2,810 districts and counties in China with its vast road haulage fleet, and this foray into autonomy follows previous ventures designed to automate the supply chain.

The company launched its Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) warehouse ahead of the ‘11/11’, or ‘Singles Day’ shopping festival in 2017, providing a ‘goods-to-people’ solution instead of the traditional ‘people-to-goods’ model, something now a standard procedure with ecommerce in the West.. As a result, the time spent selecting an item from shelves during the fulfilment process has been shortened to 10 seconds - five times more efficient than manual work.

In April, Suning Logistics rolled out its ‘Biu’ autonomous delivery robots, which can work around the clock to deliver goods directly to customers. With the expansion of its robot warehouse networks, as well as its drone delivery network that it says has started operating, Suning Logistics is aiming at a supply chain that is increasingly automated.

Strolling Dragon is the largest unmanned truck in Suning Logistics automated fleet and is able to operate without human input within pre-programmed parameters. It is the first self-driving truck developed by a Chinese e-commerce company to pass logistics campus tests and highway-scenario road tests in China. Suning's plans call for drivers to be assisted rather than replaced, for the foreseeable future. The company says that the tests, completed in Shanghai, evidence it can help create a more comfortable, and safer, working environment for over 100,000 truck drivers working for the company.

Equipped with cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI), deep-learning technologies, and high-tech gadgets such as laser radar, according to Suning, the truck has ‘superhuman vision’ that enables it to accurately recognise obstacles at a distance of over 300 metres, even at high speed. In addition, the unmanned truck can make emergency stops, or avoid obstacles at a response range of 25 metres, allowing for safe autonomous driving even at a speed of 80 km/h.

As elsewhere, AI technology is predicted to reduce transport costs for road haulage freight firms, which will find it increasingly difficult to hire long-distance drivers in China's ageing society. Although current laws and regulations in China ban self-driving vehicles on public roads, automated trucks will likely get the green light first as technologies advance and the government improves rules to accommodate innovations.

Also of course much of the Chinese commercial traffic travels almost entirely on the highways and is therefore likely to be accepted more readily than smaller autonomous vehicles in urban environments. Following this latest development Zhang Jindong, Chairman of Suning Holdings Group, commented:

"The success of Strolling Dragon's self-driving tests is a ground breaking accomplishment for Suning, and represents another step forward in our Online-to-Offline (O2O) smart retail strategy. Suning's goal is to develop its logistics business into the biggest and most intelligent retail infrastructure network in China. The promise of automation solutions will not only boost efficiency in our logistics operations, but also benefit the industry, and consumers, by offering more possibilities, and a better shopping experience."