More than a thousand robots are set to join the delivery personnel ranks of Chinese behemoths Alibaba, Meituan and 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 fourfold 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 labor crunch that has worsened due to the pandemic.