Drone Delivery and Robots: Can NVIDIA’s Jetson Provide the AI Magic to Make it Happen?

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China’s e-commerce giant JD.com has chosen NVIDIA to bring AI to drone and robot delivery.  NVIDIA founder and CEO Jensen Huang announced the collaboration during his keynote address at GTC China, the first of NVIDIA’s GPU Technology Conferences.

JDrone and JDrover are the latest creations from JD X, the innovation lab for JD.com.  Designed for use in delivery, agriculture, and search and rescue JD X says it will release over a million drones over the next 5 years.  And they’ll all be outfitted with NVIDIA’s Jetson supercomputer on a module, a high performance, low power, small unit with advanced vision capabilities.

The JDrones “can fly up to 100 kph and deliver packages weighing up to 30 kg — with others being tested to carry as much as 200 kg,” says NVIDIA. “…JD.com has been able to reduce its logistics fees by 70 percent, while delivering fresh food and medicine to remote locations to the benefit of communities and the economy.”

Some experts have said that AI is really the only way to make drone delivery feasible, and NVIDIA has invested heavily in AI and deep learning research to lead the way.

JD X is also releasing its JDrover: a small wheeled robot to be used for last mile deliveries on sites including a large number of university campuses in China.

“Using Jetson, this delivery robot can easily navigate through crowded streets by identifying faces, pedestrians, traffic lights, signs and more,” says NVIDIA. “Packages are delivered to customers that have purchased items through JD.com’s online mall, ranging from books and snacks to electronics. As more data is collected and algorithms are optimized, JD X expects to deploy the rover in more complicated scenarios across China.”

“Complex outdoor situational awareness requires a platform that delivers unprecedented capabilities for deep learning and visual processing in a small form factor,” said Yuqian Li, head of JDrover team at JD X. “The high performance of Jetson combined with its low power consumption and cost was the reason why we selected it for all of our logistics and delivery initiatives.”

The uses of the drones are myriad and will increase over time.  So far, JD has used the drones to treat an agricultural insect invasion, in search and rescue operations, and to deliver fresh food and medicine to remote areas in China.  But the demonstrated 70% reduction in logistics fees that JD has found is enough by itself to ensure that other major retailers like Amazon will continue to push for drone delivery.

The announcement of the partnership sent NVIDIA shares soaring, demonstrating investor confidence that drone delivery will prove a lasting improvement in local logistics.  “At no time in the history of computing have such exciting developments been happening, and such incredible forces in computing been affecting our future,” Jensen Huang, CEO of NVIDIA told the audience.


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