| 12:21 PM EST

Tech Watch: Alibaba’s New Courier Comes with LiDAR


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Each day, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba delivers millions of packages via couriers. But in the future, it probably would much rather do so with unmanned robots than with human drivers that require a paycheck. 

Alibaba took a big step in that direction with the introduction of the G Plus. Alibaba Group’s Cainiao Network and Chinese firm RoboSense unveiled the vehicle, which they say is the first solid-state LiDAR unmanned logistics vehicle. 

RoboSense developed a MEMS (microelectromechanical system) as part of the LiDAR. It uses a micro-mirror scanning design that requires only a few laser emitters and receivers to scan through the MEMS micro-mirror in both directions. Traditional multi-beam LiDARs require more than a hundred laser transmitters and receivers to rotate and scan at the same time to produce similar results, the companies say. The technology is a cost-saver, according to RoboSense, which says its system costs just a few hundred dollars.

Equipped with three LiDAR units, two in the front and one in the rear, the G Plus can “see” 360° of the road ahead, including the trajectory of shape/distance for cars, trucks and pedestrians. Traveling at a speed of 9 mph, the G Plus theoretically could serve as a courier vehicle, a mobile self-pickup station or even a roving coffee vending cart, depending on the retail setting. 

While Alibaba is testing the vehicles on its campus, there is no official word on when the vehicles will be on the road. However, RoboSense plans to begin building them by the end of the year.