Oct 23, 2020|

GSSC Series: JD’s Qi Kong: Scenario in Wuhan Accelerated the Development of Autonomous Driving Tech


by Ella Kidron


“The commercial deployment of autonomous delivery robots has a lot of potential,” said Qi Kong, chief scientist of automation at JD Logistics. Kong was speaking at a roundtable attended by top-tier international media in Changshu, Jiangsu province, on October 22nd, the day of JD’s Global Smart Supply Chain summit, where the deployment of its autonomous delivery robots for commercial use in Changshu was first announced. Going forward, JD will work with Changshu to jointly develop an autonomous delivery city.

JD’s Qi Kong taking an interview at JD’s office in Changshu

JD’s Qi Kong taking an interview at JD’s office in Changshu

As far as Kong is concerned, autonomous delivery robots can be applied in last mile scenarios far beyond the logistics industry. He explained that there are many demands, such as food delivery, that can be satisfied through an autonomous delivery network. This network is not just about providing value to one company, but rather can benefit society as a whole.

For JD, there are two key pieces of the puzzle. In terms of how autonomous driving technology can create value, Kong explained, “You need an understanding of the technology and an understanding of the business.” This is where future growth potential will come from. One of JD’s advantages is a deep understanding of the real scenario and what is needed to improve its efficiency.

JD’s Qi Kong speaks to international media during roundtable

JD’s Qi Kong speaks to international media during roundtable

The importance of virtual scenarios and countless amounts of testing is also key. Kong explained that the robots are able to digest half a year of traffic scenarios in two hours. “We need to create a virtual world. Any situation that occurs in the virtual world has potential to happen in the real world.”

Earlier this year with COVID-19, JD urgently deployed its L4 autonomous robot in Wuhan – the world’s first deployment of L4 autonomous driving technology for last mile delivery on open roads – to deliver to the hospitals. Kong explained that pedestrians passing by would film videos of the robot and post them on social media. At the time, retrieving the package involved typing a code onto the robots touch screen. The team found a comment on social media suggesting that using the touch screen meant that there was still some contact. Overnight, the team devised a QR code that would make the process entirely contactless. With the pandemic at a management stage in China now, they’ve gone back to the convenience of the touch screen.

According to Kong, the deployment in Wuhan accelerated JD’s original plan by just half a year. “Without the deployment in Wuhan, we probably would’ve started looking for a place after Chinese New Year and deploying in the summer.” He explained the use of the robots in Wuhan has also helped increase the openness for such technology across the board.

JD launched an adoption program in which a courier takes over the management of the robot and can use it in their daily work. Kong said, “(the adoption program”) enables us to realize individualist scenarios. Through this exploration we see really interesting things developing.” The adoption program and the ability for the couriers to experiment with the use of these new technologies is already quite attractive, according to Kong.

As for the future, Kong sees a world of intimate connectivity between car, road and cloud. “People use the traffic lights, whereas robots use network technology,” Kong said. Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) technology would allow the robots to been given an indication how the light will behave before it even turns to yellow and then red. The city of Changshu is focused on developing such technology, and has in fact already started installation for some traffic lights.

Read more about JD’s deployment of autonomous delivery robots here

Read more about how the deployment fits into JD’s overall strategy here