DETROIT, Mich.–Robo-vans are here.
A Chinese startup called Neolix has kicked off mass production of its self-driving delivery vehicles, possibly the first company to do so, and has lined up big customers like JD.Com Inc. and Huawei Technologies Co. Neolix expects to deliver a thousand of the vehicles in its first year.
Given the growth of Amazon Prime in North America and increasingly elsewhere, billions of new deliveries are in the offing. Predictions, too, are that there will be one billion deliveries a day in China within a decade.
Neolix is hardly alone in this space, as Silicon Valley’s Nuro raised almost a billion dollars this year and is starting to deliver groceries in Arizona. Ford Motor Co. is also thought to be developing a similar vehicle with Volkswagen for both U.S. and Europe. Waymo is looking at this market as well. For is also developing a robit that can get out of the trunk of such a vehicle and deliver the parcel to a door.
“Driverless cars will change the world, just like the shift from the carriage to the automobile,” Neolix founder Yu Enyuan, 45, said in an interview at his office in Beijing. Yu has been testing more than a hundred of the vehicles in enclosed areas such as Chinese campuses. The vehicles are priced similar to a regular car — a Neolix van costs about $30,000.
There is a wide swath of specualation about how long it will take for such technology to roll out to scaled usage.
The future of robo-vans is providing everything from 24/7 mobile vending to help with running errands.
At the same time, it is another example of how robotic tech will likely supplant more and more sub-$50,000 a year jobs in the next thirty years. With robo-vans, there’s no need for a messenger who will need a salary.