Remember the ads from Amazon showing how your package might be delivered by a drone? That still hasn’t happened, but something more practical is already occurring in China. Small yellow robots, each the size of a small washing machine, are making deliveries every day to residents of the “Kafka” compound on the outskirts of Beijing.
The robots, referred to as “little yellow horses,” travel along the sidewalks at an average speed of two miles per hour carrying products such as fruit, drinks, sandwiches, and other items. The boxy-looking robots are equipped with six wheels, a GPS system, radar, sensors, and cameras to avoid obstacles. The 65-pound device has a top speed of about 7 mph. Currently, the robot can only deliver to a street-level entrance; it doesn’t climb stairs.
It’s all made possible because the Chinese are well ahead of the U.S. in using their phones for making payments, and the government encourages the use of electric robots instead of gasoline-powered automobiles to help alleviate their pollution problems. The Chinese are much more used to making cashless purchases from their phones with a tap of a button. Half the population makes at least one purchase a month with their phones. That’s about three times more frequently than the rest of the world.
To request a delivery from the “little yellow horse,” the customer does everything from their phone: selects the products, types in the address for delivery, and makes a payment.
The store puts the items into a compartment in the robot and directs it to the delivery address. Once it reaches the customer and delivers the goods, it leisurely returns to the store.
The robot is the creation of Zhen Robotics. The founder, Liu Zhiyong, expects his business to boom, predicting there will be a billion packages delivered each day, up from 100 million today. He says there won’t be enough people to make all of the deliveries, particularly for the last mile.
What about vandalism or someone stealing the robots? Liu says with the built-in GPS and cameras, the robots are constantly being tracked and can sound an alarm if it someone tampers with one. Liu also noted there’s not much that a thief could do with one as it’s not particularly resellable.
Watch the robots in action below: