The old saying “… for all the tea in China” may take on a game-changing meaning for the burgeoning nation’s largest e-commerce group.
In a move reminiscent of Amazon’s 2013 announcement, the Alibaba group says it will begin making drone deliveries across China in a three-day pilot program this week.
One of the largest Asian Internet companies, Alibaba will partner with Shangai-YTO Express Logistics to deliver packets of ginger tea to 450 volunteer customers. Deliveries will be limited to three of China’s largest cities – Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai – from its Taobao Marketplace in Bejing
According to a Forbes report, the quadcopters will be able to carry up to one kilogram of payload across a flight path of 10 kilometers – hence the rather meek initial payload of packets of tea. The company estimates it will deliver about 50 parcels.
Alibaba is not the first Chinese company to launch a delivery drone fleet. InCake began drone deliveries of cakes in 2013. SF express also tested delivery UAVs the same year and sent parcels to remote areas of China.
Drone delivery is expected to heat up in China over the next 10 years. Logistics companies deliver about 25 million packages there daily with figures expected to increase to 200 million by 2025. Alibaba has set a course to capture that market – on the ground and in the air – launching a $16.3 billion investment plan for the next five years in the package-logistics sector.
Other countries are also launching into the delivery business. In Germany, drones are used to make medicine deliveries to remote islands. An Indian restaurant, following in the earlier footsteps of a Domino’s PR stunt in the UK, successfully delivered a pizza with a drone last year in Mumbai.
However, regulatory skies are hard to fly in China as in the U.S. (as Amazon has already discovered). China’s military currently controls 80 percent of airspace, allotting only one-fifth for civilian use (sound familiar, American drone users?).
Attorney Zhang Qihuai told the India Times:
“China is still in the initial phase of establishing regulations on commercial usage of drones, a lot of areas are still completely blank … Key regulations regarding flight altitude, accountability for accidents have not been established yet. There’s still a long way to go before drone can really be commercial used in China.”
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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