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Alibaba’s autonomous driving lab to focus more on monetization


Alibaba established Damo Academy in 2017 to craft a program focused on cutting-edge research that is relatively free of short-term monetization pressures. One of the Academies 16 laboratories conducts research into autonomous driving, which announced a major change today.

Damo’s autonomous vehicle lab will merge into Cainiao, Alibaba’s global logistics network, and will no longer operate under the basic research institute.

The news was first reported by the state-affiliated China Securities Journal. An Alibaba spokesperson confirmed the realignment with TechCrunch.

The structural change signals a greater urgency for Alibaba to monetize its investment in autonomous driving, which is notoriously capital intensive. Logistics is probably an easy place to start, as a self-driving van carries goods rather than people and the routes are simpler last-mile environments than busy downtown roads.

Indeed, Damo has been serving Cainiao’s last-mile delivery needs for six years with its flagship robovan called Little Donkey, which carries e-commerce, restaurant and grocery orders. By June 2022, the self-driving, Nuro-like van had achieved more than 10 million deliveries, Company said at the time.

In 2021, Alibaba expected The Little Donkey fleet must deliver one million packages a day in three years’ time. If the team is on track with the projection, Little Donkeys could now carry a large portion of Cainiao’s packages. To get an idea of ​​the size of the logistics giant, its daily peak deliveries over 18 million during Double 11, China’s annual shopping bonanza equivalent to Black Friday, in 2022.

Cainiao’s footprint now reaches many countries, following Alibaba’s e-commerce export business. It has recently built a more localized presence outside China, for example opening logistics centers in Brazil, Mexico and Chile. It will come as no surprise to see little donkeys rolling down the sidewalks of Latin America one day.

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