Drone delivery, 25 times around the world.

Takeaway has become an increasingly indispensable part of Chinese people’s daily lives, and in 2017, Meituan announced that its daily order volume had exceeded 10 million for the first time, making it the world’s first 10-million-unit daily takeaway platform. In 2023, Meituan’s daily order volume will exceed 70 million, and in 2022, more than six million riders will be busy carrying customers’ takeout needs through the bustling city. In three to five years’ time, they’ll be delivering busy meals on busy city streets with more drones at their heads than ever before. This judgment may seem sensationalized at first glance, yet Meituan has actually been working on this for more than five years and is working hard to make it a reality.
On July 5, 2023, ahead of the Shanghai Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC), the Meituan drone team unveiled its fourth-generation drone product, which boasts of having longer delivery distances, faster speeds, and lower noise than its predecessor, among other things. Although the general public knows very little about Meituan Drones as it is currently only carrying out regular services in specific areas of Shanghai and Shenzhen, it has actually been constantly updating and iterating since its official launch in 2021.
In 2022, the drones completed the delivery of 120,000 Meituan orders in the targeted areas where it operates. From 2021 to 2022, the total length of Meituan’s drone flights equaled about 25 times around the world. Through the launch of the fourth generation of drones and new policy benefits, Meituan hopes to bring drone delivery to the more central part of the city, and judges that within three to five years, drone delivery can be truly realized on a large scale.
1. Drone delivery, is it reliable?
When it comes to drone delivery, the first reaction of many people must be, is it reliable? In the financial network technology more than 2,000 likes of a drone takeout video, the highest number of likes of the comments, is walking… A cup of fried-machine milk tea suddenly falls from the sky, or a pie. That’s actually one of the key points emphasized at the launch: how Meituan ensures safety through the design of its drones. According to the Meituan drone team, Meituan drones are guaranteed to operate safely in busy cities through a three-tier safety and security system:
A Redundant Backup Operation
The first level of redundant backup operation refers to the design of the drone itself. Because the drones are mainly self-researched from the Meituan team, the drones are able to achieve a higher level of security than ordinary consumer-grade drones. The new fourth-generation model has 14 multimodal sensing units such as cameras and millimeter-wave radar around its circumference, with six-way sensing capabilities to assist in avoiding and bypassing obstacles.
The communications, battery and flight control systems are all designed with dual redundancy to avoid the risk of a single point of failure.
In an interview in 2021, Mao Yiyan mentioned that consumer-grade drones may be flown directly into a lake if the magnetometer is not calibrated, while the Meituan drone, even if the magnetometer is not calibrated, still has other redundant sensors to help it achieve hovering, which won’t happen. The new generation of drones is able to fly safely if any one of the six rotors fails.
The new generation of drones has also upgraded its resistance to extreme weather, allowing it to operate in moderate rain and snow, while being able to withstand winds of up to seven levels, which allows the Mission drones to better withstand the canyon effect created by air turbulence between buildings when traveling between buildings. Meituan’s drone even takes satellite signal jammers into account: the vehicle supports 4G and 5G dual SIM cards and long-range Wifi communication that can transmit up to 4 kilometers. The drone also has the ability of visual localization, so even if hackers interfere with satellite signals, they can’t affect the safe flight of the aircraft. Hu Meng, head of hardware products for the U.S. drone, said.
B. Safe forced landing
When the drone appears unable to fly normally, it will implement safe forced landing. Currently, Meituan UAV has planned two types of forced landing for the aircraft: forced landing with human intervention and forced landing with AI intervention. In the latter case, the AI will look for the least risky landing area, such as a green belt, the roof of a building, etc., directly through visual localization.
C parachute landing system
When the drone is unable to control the stabilization of the body, it will automatically open the parachute landing system, which acts like a parachute to slow down the drone’s fall. The parachute system developed by Meituan UAV is the first logistics drone in the drone industry that will be used as a standard configuration, said Meituan UAV. Through 18 months and 7 versions of iteration, the parachute system of Meituan UAV can successfully open the parachute under various environments such as high temperature, low temperature and solar radiation.
With a full load of 8.5kg, the drone’s kinetic energy on the ground is within 45 Joules when the parachute system is open. (ASTM F3322-18 Standard Specification for Parachutes for Small Unmanned Aircraft Flight Systems stipulates that the kinetic energy of the landing is within 69 joules).
2. Significantly reduced distribution costs
The 4th generation drone released by Meituan currently has a maximum load of 2.5kg. when delivering, a delivery person is required to put the takeaway into a specific takeaway box first, and then the drone carries out an automatic flight, which is remotely monitored by an aircrew, and taken over remotely under special circumstances. At the terminal, the drone will land on top of an outdoor, similar to the current takeout cabinet/courier cabinet, and the takeout box is automatically unloaded into the takeout cabinet, while the user receives a pickup notification. When fully loaded, Meituan’s new-generation drones can currently fly a returnable distance of 5km, compared to a delivery radius of 3km for a deliveryman, and the drones can reach speeds of up to 83km/h, with an average delivery time of just 15 minutes, compared to an average delivery time of 30 minutes for a deliveryman.
Although Meituan in the test phase of the business, and did not charge higher delivery fees to the use of drone delivery users, but Meituan drone person in charge of Mao Yiyuan admitted that the current distribution costs are still higher than artificial. Mao Yiyan judgment, if you want to scale drone delivery, it may take three to five years. However, at present, the cost of drone distribution is falling geometrically and dramatically every year. When we scale, the price and labor costs must be basically equal, or the price is only a little higher than manpower, because the service is better. Mao a year mentioned in an interview.
The decline in cost may come from the fact that as the drone industry becomes more and more prosperous, the cost of the drone itself can decline. We believe that China is the world’s number one producer, and there is no shortage of capacity, production lines and automation levels. When the industry develops to a certain scale, the upstream and downstream of the industry and supporting more focused resources will make the cost lower. Mao a year said. Cost reduction may also come from the level of automation of the drone. Mao Yiyan mentioned in his speech that when the U.S. Mission drones first landed, they needed aircrews on the ground to follow the drones all the time and keep them in view in order to maneuver them. And with the advancement of automation, the aircrews are all maneuvering remotely. One aircrew can manage ten drones because the maneuvers are only manually confirmed and taken over in special circumstances.
As far as we know, we may be the only company in the world that can manage ten drones with one aircrew over-the-horizon (meaning that they do not need to be within visual visibility). Some foreign companies also advertise 1:10 or even 1:20, but measuring at an experimental airport and actually delivering orders in the sky are completely different concepts. Mao said in an interview.
In the future, by further utilizing AI technology, an aircrew may be able to manage more drones. For example, under the current level of technology, the drone encounters a new unknown large obstacle, will hover by itself, waiting for artificial judgment is to continue to go forward or return to the flight. But in the future, through AI technology, drones will be able to judge this on their own, reducing manual intervention.
This is also a year of Mao’s mind, the U.S. Mission drones in the scale before the most need to focus on the improvement of the core ability. In the future, if we can really scale up, it must be a time when the cost is very favorable, maybe one hundred aircrews can supervise the drones in the whole city, of course, this number is what I said off the cuff.
3. The first year of low-altitude economy
Drone distribution, known as the low altitude logistics system by Meituan, in addition to the cost is now still higher than artificial distribution, the main bottleneck of the current promotion also includes policy uncertainty. When Meituan drones first landed in neighborhoods for piloting, they needed constant communication and coordination with the government, neighborhoods, and many other parties to get the opportunity to pilot. At this point, it has just ushered in a major good: just a few days before the launch, on June 28, 2023, the State Council, the Central Military Commission in the release of China’s first national level and low-altitude flight-related management law “Interim Regulations on the Management of Unmanned Aircraft Flight”, through the military, territorial, civil aviation tripartite management, for the governments around the future of how to regulate the management of drones, providing a direction.
This is also one of the reasons why Mission Drones made the judgment that it would be able to scale up and promote in three to five years. The promulgation of the new provisional regulations has made Mao very optimistic for one year, even calling 2023 the first year of low-altitude economy. Because of the policy, we couldn’t do the urban promotion in parallel before, and we are now actively exploring to enter the more core area of the city for distribution. And with the promulgation of this policy, many experts believe that China is entering the first year of low-altitude economy. Five years later, there is a high probability that we enter a city, is a set of system cloth down, directly covering the whole city distribution. Mao said a year.
In addition, on February 23, 2023, the U.S. Mission drones were officially validated by the Civil Aviation Administration, obtaining the “letter of approval for the trial operation of specific classes of drones” and “general aviation enterprise business license”, which also marks its possession of domestic compliance permits required for commercialization and landing. However, Mao said a year, even if the cost and policy can be put in place, the final U.S. Mission drones can carry the number of takeout, may only be 5% -10% of all takeout, because the number of takeout orders is too much, and the entire low-altitude logistics can carry the drone, after all, is limited.

People and drones must coexist. Mao Yiyan said that drones may send some high cargo value, or long distance, or orders with higher requirements for timeliness. From this point of view, people are usually concerned about the unemployment problem caused by drone delivery may not exist. In addition to the fact that drones will ultimately account for only a small portion of takeout platform orders, Mao also predicts that drone delivery will lead to some new and better related job opportunities. For example, drone delivery is currently unable to solve the problem of the last 100 meters, so in the future, areas that use drone delivery may need to hire a delivery person to specifically pick up orders at a mall and deliver them to a drone-delivered box. Or a deliveryman specifically waiting in a neighborhood to deliver orders from drone delivery to the door.
In addition, the drone delivery also needs aircrew for remote monitoring, ground staff is responsible for some work, including power replacement, and these work takeaway workers can be transferred to the operation after training. Mao said a year, the main aircrew or previously recruited drone pilots, but there are indeed cases of delivery staff after training on the job. And with the development of automation, the requirements for the aircrew’s expertise in drone flight will become lower and lower. When asked about the degree of determination of the U.S. Mission on the drone business, Mao a year showed a great deal of optimism: the U.S. Mission has its own internal sentence called, long-term patience. We have currently invested in this matter for five years, and there is no problem to stick to it for another five years.
Meituan is considered a large enterprise of the Internet, even if others do not enter the field, we are willing to lead and promote the drone distribution of this matter. Now is the best time. We hope that more friends can participate. We started a little earlier, and there is a natural demand for high-frequency scenarios like takeout, so we may have a little first-mover advantage. But we are willing to share more relevant experience with you in the future. Mao year to talk about.

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