Meituan, a top Chinese e-commerce platform specializing in home delivery and life services, established the Meituan Academy of Robotics Shenzhen (MARS) in the southern province of Guangdong on November 29.
Mao Yinian, Vice President of Meituan and head of its drone delivery unit, is the chairman and dean of MARS, overseeing robotics research for the company. Mao said that the new academy will help the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area build an open innovation platform with service robots as its core, cooperate with leading scientists and academic institutions, carry out R&D of common key technologies of robots, and explore how to integrate technology with industry.
At a press conference, the academy announced that Harry Shum, a Chinese computer scientist and also a member of the US National Academy of Engineering, is its chief expert consultant. Wang Tianmiao, the Honorary Director of the Robotics Institute of China’s Beihang University, Yang Shuanchang, President of the China-Europe Association for Technical and Economic Cooperation (CEATEC), and Zhang Hong, a fellow of the IEEE, are also serving as expert consultants at the academy.
The academy also announced a strategic cooperation with the International Digital Economy Academy (IDEA), involving the establishment of a joint laboratory. In the future, this lab will focus on urban air traffic systems, urban low-altitude traffic logistics network planning, digital low-altitude management tools, and digital twin systems of urban air traffic. It will also aim to form urban low-altitude digital flight rules and technical standards for supporting infrastructure.
In October last year, Meituan formally put forward a new “retail + technology” strategy, and continued to increase investment in scientific and technological R&D in key areas for more than half a year. In a financial report for the first quarter of this year, the R&D expenditure of Meituan only increased by 40% year-on-year to 4.9 billion yuan ($685.8 million), and the R&D expenditure accounted for nearly 11% of the revenue.
During a corresponding financial report conference call, CEO Wang Xing said that although Meituan started out from software, its business development now also requires hardware, which is the fundamental reason why the company has continued to invest in robotics in recent years.
As Mao said during the launch event of MARS, “In the life services scenarios, robot technology is an important link between the online information world and the physical world. Service robot technology can greatly improve the efficiency of life services and create a better experience for users. On the other hand, Meituan has rich application fields, which can realize the rapid implementation of robot technology in the field of life service. This is why Meituan continues paying attention to the field of service robots and investing in it.”
As a technology-driven retail enterprise, Meituan has invested in the field of robots for several years, independently developing service robots such as automatic delivery vehicles, unmanned drones and indoor service robots, as well as software service robots such as intelligent customer service. Among them, robots such as automatic distribution vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles have been implemented for several years, and have achieved regional scale implementation in cities like Beijing and Shenzhen across China. Up to now, they have collectively carried out nearly 3 million orders.
Service robots have broad market prospects. According to the latest “Special Research Report on the Development of China’s Robot Industry in 2022” released by iiMedia Research, the market size of service robots in fields such as logistics distribution, medical care and domestic use in China will reach 74.24 billion yuan ($10.4 billion) in 2022.