Detroit-built self-driving delivery vehicles put to the test in China

February 14, 2019

Detroit-based Quadrobot is ready to take its self-driving mail delivery vehicle on the road. The startup company told The Detroit Free Press Sunday that it has plans to begin tests in China, and locally in Michigan, later this year with its Quadrobot U1.

The tiny vehicle boasts an all-wheel-drive system, four-wheel steering, and sits on a skateboard-like modular platform. It's also electric with 47 horsepower on tap to handle last-mile delivery services.

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"Last-mile deliveries" refer to deliveries made locally in neighborhoods or in downtown areas—not cross-country haulers to bring packages to various areas. The concept has become a breeding ground for self-driving car startup companies since deliveries are short and don't require highway travel.

The first U1 tests will feature a human inside to drive the vehicle, but the autonomous system will kick in to steer and brake if it detects the driver has made an incorrect input, such as a wrong turn. Humans will also deliver the packages onboard the robotic car, and while they carry out their job, the U1 will be able to follow them down the street "like a pet," Quadrobot CEO and chairman Mike Wang told the newspaper. The company is also working with a supplier to develop a fast-charging system that could fully charge the car's battery in 40 minutes. The range would be enough for a 12-hour-long delivery shift, the company said.

READ THIS: Self-driving cars: a primer

Quadrobot plans to ship 2,000 self-driving package delivery vehicles to China for tests late this year. They'll carry out package deliveries on the south coast of the country.

In Michigan, 30 of the vehicles are planned for tests in Detroit and surrounding neighborhoods. The company also plans to hire 50 workers for an assembly plant in Madison Heights, Michigan. Three plants in China will also handle production with 200 workers total. In the future, Quadrobot's highly flexible platform could lend itself to other electric cars, too.

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