In China, yellow robots deliver snacks at home

Along a quiet residential street in Beijing, a yellow and black cube about the size of a small washing machine trundles leisurely to its destination.

This “little yellow horse” is an autonomous delivery robot, ferrying daily essentials like drinks, fruit and snacks from the local store to the residents of the “Kafka” compound in the Chinese capital.

Equipped with a GPS system, cameras and radar, the robots are seen by their creator as the future of logistics in China. The company estimates that eventually one billion packages will be delivered every day.

At a less than overwhelming pace of 3 km per hour — a slow human walk — the robot has room for improvement, said one customer as she removed a packet of nuts from its bowels. “The weak point is that it cannot deliver directly to the door like a human,” said the customer, who does not live on the ground floor. “But it’s still quite practical. The robot delivers relatively quickly,” she said.

The robot takes advantage of Chinese consumers’ love of cashless payments and smartphone shopping. China is the world’s biggest online shopping market with more than half of its population making at least one smartphone purchase per month, according to professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. This compares to 14% in the rest of the world.

The robots have four cameras that scan the world around them and a laser tele-detection system allowing them to avoid obstacles.

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