Chinese e-commerce heavyweight JD.com plans to build 150 drone launch facilities in southwestern Sichuan province for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) parcel delivery. Having secured government approval in select provinces, autonomous aerial deliveries in China are at the forefront of commercial drone innovation.
JD.com has been making commercial drone deliveries in at least four pilot regions scattered across China since June 2016.
JD.com CEO Richard Liu told local media that the goal of 150 launch facilities was three years out. Liu also said that drone deliveries would reduce the costs of shipping freight by 70 percent, compared to conventional truck delivery.
The drone service can deliver products to some shoppers within 24 hours and will improve delivery efficiency in remote areas, Liu added.
Unlike Amazon and other UAV-related companies, JD is, at present, not even attempting to make drone deliveries to individual residences, or to customers residing within megacities, like Shanghai or Beijing. Rather, the company sees drones as especially suitable for rural areas where urban density poses no obstacle to unchallenged drone operations, and where poor transportation infrastructure inhibits efficient courier delivery.
JD.com’s drones can carry 50-kilogram payloads, but the retailer says that 500-kilogram-capable drones are in the pipeline.
JD launched drone deliveries in four pilot cities during the run-up to last year’s November 11 “Single’s Day” shopping festival. In these trial runs, packages were trucked from a JD warehouse to a local delivery station, where five models of the fully-automated drones flew parcels of varying volumes and weights. Once orders were received, a drone operator dispatched the drone along pre-planned routes to designated drop zones in the village.
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