Dominant Chinese online retailer JD.com is looking to reduce human-facilitated deliveries by deploying Level 4 autonomous driving vans, the first of its kind in the world. With its new product transport technology, JD.com hopes to lighten couriers’ workloads and help them focus on other responsibilities like collecting parcels and providing personalised services.

The company promoted smart vans as a way to fulfil the increasingly high demand for speedy deliveries during the pandemic as well.  

JD automated delivery vans
Credit: JD Corporate Blog

Equipped with Livox Mid-70 LiDAR and computer vision cameras, the self-driving van can avoid obstacles such as other vehicles, people and structures. It also knows how to safely cross intersections and adjust its route in the face of complicated road paths. When it counters a speed bump, it slows itself down.   

By partnering with NVIDIA, JD was able to train the autonomous driving AI to perform these functions. 

JD NVIDIA partnership
Credit: JD Corporate Blog

“Based on NVIDIA’s Jetson AGX Xavier platform, we have further developed our autonomous driving system and optimised the computing unit. The collaboration with NVIDIA not only secured the Level 4 autonomous driving demand from a computing perspective but also helped lower the power consumption to 10% of the industry average,” said Cindy Xu, Principal Architect of JD Logistic’s Autonomous Driving division.

Automated driving in a nutshell 

Automated driving
Credit: Escrypt

US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated that there are five levels to automated driving. Level 0 automation entails a human driver’s need to take full control of the vehicle. Level 1 automation is the level where driving assist mechanisms such as blind spot or forward-collision warnings are enabled, but it is still the driver who is steering the automobile. 

Level 2 or partial automation means that combined automated functions manoeuvring the car’s speed and direction are present. Still, the driver must observe his surroundings.  

Conditional or Level 3 automation does not compel the driver to monitor his environment at all times. However, he must be prepared to do so when the situation calls for it. 

Level 4 is also known as High Automation, where the vehicle can navigate itself under specific conditions. Level 5 — the last level — indicates that the automobile can carry out all driving functions in any circumstance. 

jd self driving van
Credit: Handout

JD.com is the first to apply Level 4 automation technology. In August 2020, it initially rolled out its self-driving delivery vans in Changshu, Jiangsu province, China. 

Indirect competitors Alibaba and Meituan are cooking up autonomous delivery devices of their own.  

As of July 2021, JD.com’s smart delivery vans are servicing eight cities in China daily. The fleet of vehicles only operates near existing delivery stations. 


Written by Sophia Lopez