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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

JD.com, a Chinese e-commerce gargantuan, has built a big new Shanghai fulfillment center that can organize, pack and ship 200,000 orders a day. It employs four people — all of whom service the robots.

What's going on: Welcome to the creeping new age of automation. When the talk turns to Chinese big tech — rivals to Google, Amazon and the rest of Silicon Valley — the names usually cited are Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent. But scrappy JD, with a respectable $58 billion market cap, is investing aggressively to be added to the pantheon.

Its secret sauce, executives said this week in Beijing and Shanghai, is logistics — its creation of China's first east-to-west, north-to-south package delivery business, able to deliver a purchase the same day almost anywhere in the nation, as long as it's ordered by 11 a.m.

But to get faster and more reliable, just as important is automation: From smart warehouses that process orders, to self-driving trucks and drones to deliver them, JD's research and development team is working on ways to eliminate costly workers.

Why it matters: This is the future. Like JD, its fierce e-commerce rival Alibaba has also built an entirely automated warehouse, showing how retail will probably be done in years to come everywhere including the U.S. and Europe.

  • JD says its objective is not to eliminate workers but to get faster and more reliable, and that it will shift its warehouse people to other jobs.
  • Its new mantra is "retail as a service," in which it will sell the efficient methods it's developed to other companies.

The rap on JD has been that it is far less profitable than Alibaba. But JD responds that, as Jeff Bezos expanded Amazon, its logistics buildout is proof it is investing in itself.

  • "Everything is about scale," says CTO Chen Zhang, speaking with a small group of reporters at its Beijing headquarters.
  • "When you invest in technology, you don't worry about spending money. You worry whether you can get to scale. When scale comes, profit will come."

Get more stories like this by signing up for our twice-weekly robotics, AI and labor newsletter, Axios Future. 

Go deeper

Schumer: Trump impeachment trial to start week of Feb. 8

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: The Washington Post via Getty

The Senate will begin former President Trump's impeachment trial the week of Feb. 8, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday on the Senate floor.

Why it matters: Trump is the only president in U.S. history to be impeached twice for “incitement of insurrection" after a violent pro-Trump mob breached the U.S. Capitol, resulting in five deaths.

43 mins ago - Health

CDC extends interval between COVID vaccine doses for exceptional cases

Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty

Patients can space out the two doses of the coronavirus vaccine by up to six weeks if it’s "not feasible" to follow the shorter recommended window, according to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention.

Driving the news: With the prospect of vaccine shortages and a low likelihood that supply will expand before April, the latest changes could provide a path to vaccinate more Americans — a top priority for President Biden.

Texas AG sues Biden administration over deportation freeze

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks to members of the media in 2016. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the Biden administration in federal district court over its 100-day freeze on deporting unauthorized immigrants, and he's asking for a temporary restraining order.

Between the lines: The freeze went into effect Friday, temporarily halting most immigration enforcement in the U.S. In the lawsuit, Paxton claims the move "violates the U.S. Constitution, federal immigration and administrative law, and a contractual agreement between Texas" and the Department of Homeland Security.

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