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JD.com releases drones to service China’s rural communities

Another day, another e-commerce provider launches drone delivery. This time around, it’s China’s other, even larger B2C online retailer, JD.COM that started use of drones for deliveries in China's Jiangsu Province.

China Daily reports JD.com has launched the first operational pilot program for drone deliveries in China using at least two types of UAVs to deliver packages between designated distribution centers in rural areas outside of Suqian city in northeast China’s Jiangsu province.

Ready the drones
The two drones housed in Suqian's Caoji township delivery depot are capable of autonomously loading and unloading up to 200 packages in a single flight route each day. The drones can each carry 10 to 15 kg of weight — a significant increase on Amazon’s trial drone parcel limits of 2.3kg —and fly 15 to 20 km at a speed of up to 54 km per hour.

A hub and spoke approach
For now JD.com drones will fly on carefully designed fixed routes to ensure the safety of drone delivery. That means these drones won’t be deployed to deliver goods directly to shoppers just yet. Instead, JD.com will use them to transport goods from rural distribution stations to deliverymen based in villages. The deliverymen will then distribute goods directly to online shoppers.

JD received a one-year license to fly drones in Suqian and the company is applying for licenses to fly drones in four other provinces in China in a bid to expand coverage to other rural areas in the future, said Xiao Jun, who is in charge of JD's X Lab, a business unit dedicated to adopting cutting edge technology in logistics and delivery.

Better logistics serve China’s rural
JD.com and other Chinese e-commerce businesses have pledged to better serve the country’s difficult to reach rural consumers. That pledge primarily involves enhancing logistics capabilities where in addition to JD.com’s drone ambitions, last month the company also partnered with a robotics company Siasun Robot and Automation Co. Ltd. to build smart robotics systems for their warehouses, including autonomous vehicles.

Alibaba — which operates the country’s most popular e-commerce site, Taobao — has also invested heavily in building out their logistics network. Alibaba’s logistics affiliate, Cainiao, recently raised funds in the vicinity of US$1.5bn at a US$7.7bn valuation with the voiced intent “to make it easy to deliver goods to anywhere.”

Tags: Technology, Logistics, Drones

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