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Artificial intelligence

Alibaba is testing a delivery robot with a revolutionary pair of eyes

China’s e-commerce giant, Alibaba, is testing the world’s first driverless vehicle equipped with solid-state lidar. The road-going delivery robot is being tested by Cainiao, an Alibaba logistics subsidiary using technology developed by another Chinese company, RoboSense.

Special delivery: Plenty of delivery robots exist already, but they typically navigate using cameras and radar, which are much cheaper. A system equipped with laser ranging can see the world in greater detail and should therefore be able to get around with fewer bumps and bruises.

Cheaper vision: RoboSense’s system uses microelectromechanical (MEMS) mirrors to guide the system’s laser beams. More generally, by driving down the cost of lidar sensors—typically one of the most expensive parts of a self-driving car—solid-state lidar could make the cars much more accessible.

China driving: The effort highlights how ambitiously both big companies and startups are pursuing driverless technology. It also shows how ambitious Alibaba is becoming in both artificial intelligence and robotics—in case you needed any reminders.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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