More than a thousand robots are set to join the delivery personnel ranks of Chinese behemoths Alibaba, Meituan and JD.com over the next year as the pandemic fuels demand for contactless services.
The firms expect to operate over 2,000 robots between them by 2022, up about four-fold from now, their executives said, encouraged also by falling costs of making robots.
Millions of couriers still deliver packages for as less as 3 yuan ($0.47) in China, but companies have been exploring the use of drones or box-like robots on wheels from as early as 2013 amid a labour crunch that has worsened due to the pandemic.
Beijing has also ordered firms to ensure rest periods for couriers as they scramble to meet rising demand and deadlines.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has been a big boost" for robot rollout plans, said Xia Huaxia, chief scientist at Meituan.
The food-delivery giant launched its robot service in February 2020 when infections were high in Beijing, earlier than a planned end-year launch.