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Alibaba deploys IoT to prepare for 11.11 shopping festival

Chinese shopping giant Alibaba is using IoT and robotics technologies to prepare for this year’s 11.11 global shopping festival. Last year, the one-day event brought in $25.3bn in gross merchandise volume, more than double that of Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
In 2017, the smart logistics company Cainiao Network, majority owned by Alibaba, delivered 812 million orders. This year, Cainiao is expecting even more. To prepare for the deluge of packages, Cainiao is rolling out a host of initiatives and advanced technologies.
“Consumers increasingly want faster, better delivery, so that’s what we’re doing,” Cainiao vice president Ben Wang said. “This year, we’re striving to achieve a new high, leveraging the beauty of scale and technology.”
Cainiao recently opened the biggest automated warehouse in China, in the eastern city of Wuxi. It is part of the company’s first Future Park, a logistics complex run by IoT applications, big data, edge computing and artificial intelligence to boost efficiencies in the shipping process.
Powered by IoT connectivity, Cainiao uses 700 robots – automated guided vehicles – to fulfil orders. The system directs the AGVs to drive, load and unload while planning the best routes to distribute parcels and avoid collision. The robots allow for 50% more orders to be processed within a given time period than a traditional warehouse, Cainiao said.
There is also the Sky Eye programme, a cloud-based, video-monitoring system that will be used by Cainiao’s logistics partners for this year’s 11.11. Leveraging computer vision technology and algorithms, Sky Eye monitors warehouse operations to look for kinks in the logistics process and sends updates to workers so they can be fixed in real time.
In addition, Cainiao has partnered with 15 major Chinese express-courier companies to crunch logistics data so manpower and transportation are used more efficiently in the 200,000 delivery stations being used for to support 11.11. The data also help increase the use of resources, avoid bottlenecks and management of locally held inventories.
AliExpress, which sells Chinese goods to consumers overseas, and Tmall World, a site aimed at Chinese consumers living abroad, are taking on a bigger role in this year’s 11.11. In expectation of an increase in cross-border shipments, Cainiao has chartered 51 flights to Western Europe, Russia and south-east Asia, as well as about 1000 shipping containers set for buyers in south-east Asia and other destinations by sea.
On the inbound side, Cainiao has prepared bonded warehouses across China that cover over a million square metres. That’s up 80% from last year, the company said. The bonded warehouses, which house specific products that have been given preferential tax treatment by the Chinese government, will be used to store goods at warehouses nearest to the consumers most likely to order them, which helps cut delivery times.
This year will also be the first time that goods ordered during 11.11 are delivered directly from stores to customers, a sign that new retail advances continue to play a role in the festival. Short-distance delivery services will be available in over 280 cities.


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