Drone Deliveries Move Forward in China

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One of China’s largest eCommerce business, JD.com, is at it again. In the next three years the company plans to open 150 drone launch facilities in China’s southwestern Sichuan province in an effort to create a local drone delivery network. Sichuan’s mountainous terrain has for centuries made travel and delivery a difficulty to isolated rural communities, now drones can change that.

Drone Dossier has reported on JD’s work before. Since June of 2016 they have been making live drone deliveries in four test areas throughout China. They are also working directly with Chinese authorities to set up a drone traffic management systems in the areas they operate.

JD has a variety of drones to deliver packages with the largest supposedly able to lift upwards of 50 kg and they are developing ones that can lift around 500 kg! JD’s CEO Richard Liu recently said that drone deliveries would reduce the costs of shipping freight by 70%, compared to conventional truck delivery.

JD is also streamlining the way its uses drones, deciding not to make deliveries to individual address, but instead deliver to one of the thousands of local distribution centers that is has both in cities and in rural areas.

The video below shows JD’s concept. In it a man orders diapers online from a local village. The order then goes to the nearest drone-capable distribution center which packs up the diapers and sends them to the local village via an autonomous drone. Notice that the JD drone in this video is a tri-rotor drone and it appears (3:34) that the box has hooks that latch unto the drones chassis itself to secure the package during transit. The drone drops the package off at another smaller JD distribution center where a local employee picks it up and literally walks it over a few houses to the guy who order the diapers online.

Drones Are Now Used to Build Bridges

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Forget observing construction projects, workers in China are now using drones to assist in building massive bridges.

In China’s Sichuan Province workers are currently building the Xingkang Bridge that when completed will be nearly a mile long and hang over 600 feet above the raging Dadu River. The southwestern province is famous for its river gorge valleys that impede travel.

The first step in creating these massive suspension bridges is to run a pilot cable across the expanse the bridge will traverse and then use this pilot cable to rig up larger and larger cables. Usually a helicopter or boat would be used to run a pilot cable. But this time a drone is being used.

In December, Chinese engineers used a large 6-rotor drone to carry the pilot cable to the other side of the bridge structure. The engineers claim this method is over 100 times more efficient and 80% less costly than traditional methods—not to mention safer. This is also not the first time China has used drones in this manner to help construct bridges.

Such innovative uses of drones show their ability to make things more efficient and cheaper—which when you think about it, are the two keys in making a technology stick. It will be interesting to see what other ways drones can aid construction project.

Drone Deliveries in China Outpace Anything Amazon is Doing

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Chinese eCommerce behemoth JD.com plans to expand its drone delivery routes to over 100 by the end of the year. The Chinese company already has around 20 routes currently in service in four selected areas throughout China and has worked closely with the Chinese government to get permission to operate its delivery drones.

As of now, it looks like JD’s drone deliveries will continue to be to rural areas as they are looking to gain more experience before moving to China’s crowded cities. According to JD, packages that qualify for drone delivery are flown to a JD delivery post in the village and then taken by a local employee to the home that ordered the item.

JD has done all of this as Amazon and others are still just getting off the ground. China’s largest eCommerce company Alibaba—which operates the popular sites like Taobao and Tmall—has experimented with drone deliveries, but has not committed to any clear course of action like JD.