China has once again done it. While others are still simply talking about it, China’s JD.com, also called Jingdong, is soon going to have super-sized delivery drones at the service of its customers. Considered China’s largest online retailer, JD.com has a national distribution network that matches the coverage of global ecommerce giant Amazon.
Being pitched as world’s largest civilian delivery drone, JD.com’s robots are going to be three-engine, autonomous, vertical-takeoff drones that will be capable of carrying a payload of over 1 ton up to 186 miles. Considering it will be delivering retail packages, the weight bracket seems practical.
One of the things that made JD.com’s delivery drone dream possible was the support it received from Shaanxi provincial government. The government allowed the company to operate hundreds of low-altitude routes within a 300km radius, an area of more than 11,500 square miles. On the other side, American ecommerce giant Amazon is still fighting out with its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about where and when it can fly its parcel-carrying drones.
With its drones, JD.coms’s intends to target Shaanxi farmers, who can use the quadcopters to distribute their perishable vegetables, fruits and meat without breaking out a sweat about rural roads and traffic snarls.
While China might emerge first in the race, other countries aren’t that behind in the race either.
Zipline, a California-based startup which uses drones to deliver medicine and blood to remote areas in Rwanda, Africa, has also started its delivery program in the United States. On the commercial side, Amazon, which first announced its plans of using drones for delivering packages in 2013, in a special telecast of US TV show 60 Minutes and promised humanity their service by 2018. Amazon completed its first public demonstration of a Prime Air drone delivery in the U.S. in March this year, when it carried sunscreen to attendees at an Amazon-hosted conference in Palm Springs, California.
However, the 2018 target set by Amazon might or might not be met as the company has to wait for the Federal Aviation Administration to craft rules about how to fly over populated areas and beyond the line of sight of the operator. And that could take years.
Coming to India, in 2015, India’s e-commerce giant Flipkart announced its plans to use drones to deliver goods to rural areas. However, there hasn’t been any update on the project yet. Coming to Amazon India, the American giant this week filed patent for exclusive rights on multi-scale fiducials, black and white marks on any object for the unmanned aerial vehicles to identify them from different distances in the Indian subcontinent. This is Amazon’s second patent application in India surrounding drones. Prior to this, the company had filed a patent in India for drone technology with respect to propeller safety.
For now, it seems China’s JD.com will win the race as it not only has the technology, but also its government’s support, which other companies are currently lacking at this point from their respective governments.
This development was first reported in Popular Science.
[Image: Runnymede Blog]