Meituan Inc. yesterday said that it has raised $10 billion, which it plans to invest in research and development of autonomous vehicles, drone delivery services, and other technology innovation. The Beijing-based company describes itself as a “one-stop platform for food, transportation, travel, shopping, and entertainment.”
Meituan Select's business model “involves neighbors jointly purchasing groceries in bulk online at discounted prices through a group leader who also manages distribution,” reported Nikkei Asia.
Meituan continues testing
“In 2016, we began to develop an unmanned delivery service,” Zia Huaxia, chief scientist and head of artificial intelligence at Meituan, told China.org.cn last November. “We did so for two reasons. First, we know that it's tough for delivery men to do all the jobs manually, especially during the cold winter or in the flood season in summer.”
“Second, we realized at that time that the takeaway business would expand quickly and that the number of workers we were able to recruit would soon be unable to meet the demand,” he said.
Meituan Dianping has been testing driverless delivery vehicles moving 20 km/h (12.4 mph) in Beijing since February 2020. The company said it has delivered more than 35,000 orders and helped reduce human contact during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This month, Meituan launched the next generation of its delivery robot, which it said has a range of 80 km (49.7 mi.) on a single charge, cargo capacity of 150 kg (330 lb.), and perception capabilities to more than 150 m (492.1 ft.). The company is also testing drone deliveries.
Tencent Holdings has a 17.7% stake in Meituan, which has invested $15 million in PuduTech's restaurant robots. Meituan also participated in last week's Series C round for 3D vision firm Mech-Mind Robotics.
Delivery robots jostle for growing market
The global market for delivery robots will grow from $212 million in 2021 to $957 million by 2026 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35.1%, predicts Markets and Markets.
Meituan's e-commerce rivals include Alibaba Group, Amazon.com, and JD.com. All of them are actively developing delivery robots and drones or are partnering with autonomous systems providers. Other companies working on delivery robots include Daxbot, Eliport, Postmates, Refraction AI, Tortoise, and Unity Drive Innovation.
Kiwibot last week launched Version 4.0 of its eponymous robot and partnered with Segway.
Chipotle invested in Nuro last month, and Domino's Pizza is testing deliveries with the Nuro R2 in Houston.
In January, Starship Technologies raised $14 million and added more college campuses to the locations it serves. The company said it has completed 1 million deliveries and has partnered with DoorDash.