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.
The last few years the drone industry has soared to new heights thanks to China. In a recent report, the China Business Review relays that 5 of the top 11 venture-capital funded drone companies are Chinese. On top of this, in 2015 Chinese drone giant DJI is estimated to have made up 70% of the drone market alone.
But China is not just exporting drones; its commercial sector has a vivacious appetite for this new technology. A lot of this has to do with the current economic and business environment in China. All over China the cost of labor is increasing, to help offset this rise, many parts of the Chinese economy are looking to technology like drones. In agriculture drones make the spraying of pesticides and fertilizers more efficient and Chinese provinces (Henan, Zhejiang, and Hubei) are already offering training and financial reimbursements for those that give drones a try.
Chinese internet giant JD.com is far head of its American counterpart Amazon and already is making thousands of drone deliveries. Additionally, JD is currently working with cooperative government agencies to expand drone delivery further. China is also pushing drone use in construction, sensing/mapping and film. In fact, today on a motion picture produced anywhere in the world it would be hard not to find a Chinese made drone somewhere on the set.
In the future new players will certainly arise, but for the time being China’s drone industry will still set the pace. But it also has plenty of investment opportunities. Just has Intel who has invested over $60 million in Chinese drone manufacture Yuneec.
Chinese eCommerce Giant JD.com is at it again. Drone Dossier has previously reported on JD’s efforts to widen drone deliveries in China by working with local government entities. This time JD has partnered with the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi to set up a low altitude drone (UAV) logistics network covering the whole province.
It is reported that JD plans on using this network to operate large and medium sized UAVs that can carry tonnes of weight and travel up to 300 kilometers. If JD and Shaanxi officials can get things running as planned, it will be the first operating drone logistics network for package delivery in the world. Given JD’s efforts so far, it’s the opinion of Drone Dossier that JD will pull it off.
Right now reports out of China are not specific on exactly how the network is being set up. As more info comes in we will be sure to share it.
Back in the States, drone software company AirMap—whose software package helps manage drone traffic by providing uses with up-to-date data on airspace usage and restrictions around them—just raised $26 million in series B funding.
The AirMap app, available for free, helps drone uses plan flights and operate safely. On the back end, AirMap is working to make its platform a go-to choice for drone manufacturers, regulators (like the FAA), and airports to monitor and manage drone operations.
AirMap CTO Daniel Rubio recently said on AirMap’s blog that they are working to build a “new kind of map…a map for ‘things’ in addition to people, is a critical part of our vision for AirMap. We imagine a flexible, self-healing platform, capable of processing a tremendous amount of data about the current state of the airspace, and delivering a response that is computed and tailored to each specific flight in real time. We call this concept computational airspace, and we think it represents an important part of the future of the entire drone ecosystem.”
JD.com, one China’s largest online retailers and tech companies has kicked off its drone delivery service. The program is starting with trials to rural areas in Beijing, Jiangsu, Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces.
Although still a trial, JD is already delivery ‘live’ packages to real consumers, which puts it far ahead of companies like Amazon and Walmart who have invested millions into drone deliveries but are still largely hampered by FAA regulations.
JD worked with more receptive Chinese officials to get permission to start their delivery program with 30 drones that can deliver packages of up to 15 kilograms within a range of 50 kilometers.
With billions of dollars in sales a year, JD is poised to be a major player in the drone delivery business. American companies have a lot to learn from JD and should carefully observe how they roll out their plan. By the end of this year, JD plans to expand their current trial to over 100 operational routes throughout China.