BEIJING – Residents of China’s most far-flung areas could soon see their shopping delivered by drone, as the country further secures its position as a leading pioneer of the technology.
Since 2016, the sight of propeller drones transporting packages in some parts of the East Asian country have become commonplace.
Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com, which already uses around 40 drones for deliveries in four of the country’s 30 administrative divisions, wants to go even further.
“We are really looking at rural areas where the infrastructure is not good and the delivery work is not very strong so it is much more cost effective to send drones into the countryside,” JD’s vice president of International Corporate Affairs, Josh Gartner, told EFE.
However, this is no easy feat.
Speaking at the sprawling JD.com headquarters on the outskirts of Beijing, Gartner explained that the biggest challenge facing the ambitious plans is the question of how to supply power to the drones.
Six of the seven drone models used by JD.com are electric and only the largest one – a device of almost 2 meters (almost 7 feet) in size and the capacity to transport up to 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of weight – is fueled by gasoline.
Another issue affecting the expansion of the service is restrictions placed on airspace in Chinese cities, which also explains JD.com’s targeting of rural areas.
But despite the roadblocks, the company says it is determined to expand the service.
It is no coincidence that unmanned flight shipments have been developed first in China, the country leading in the production of drones for civilian use and where there are already at least 45,000 registered drones.
By the middle of the next decade it is estimated that the Chinese drone market will generate up to $11 billion annually, according to a study by the firm iResearch.
JD.com’s domestic rival Alibaba is also working towards greater dissemination of drones in the country’s rural areas, where some 650 million people live.
But while Alibaba has focused on setting up “Taobao villages,” or villages living almost entirely on e-commerce, JD.com is working to improve the delivery service by constructing mini-airports to enable more coordinated use of the devices.
JD.com announced in April that within three years it will build 150 airports for drones in the province of Sichuan, where more than 100 million people live.
The company hopes that the revolutionary technology will reduce its shipping costs by up to 70 percent, as people living in China’s most remote areas get used to seeing their deliveries being flown at low altitudes through the countryside.