January 30, 2017

DJI Mavic Pro drone quadcopter

JD.com is one of the largest online retailers in China, and it’s aiming to expand its drone delivery service to 100 routes across the country this year.

What started last year to get even bigger

The second largest online retailer in China – first being Alibaba, of course – started its drone delivery service last year in four provinces in the country: Jiangsu, rural Beijing, Sichuan, and Guangxi. That may come as a surprise since drone delivery service isn’t expected to launch in the US until 2020.

Well, it looks like JD.com is looking to expand the current 20 or so fixed routes across the country to 100 routes by the end of the year. The company will work with the Chinese government to get approval, and once approved, the company will ship products using drones, which will be dropped on a landing pad managed by a distributor:

We try to deliver with drones from cities to the countryside. In every village, we have a delivery man who lives in the village, and he will take the parcels [delivered by drone] to different houses. – CEO Richard Liu

JD.com uses five different drones depending on the size of the parcel, but each drone can carry up to 15 items. This means that the company can bring in more customers without having to deal with extremely pricey transportation costs associated with rural and difficult-to-access areas of China.

When will the US see drone delivery?

While JD.com has a middle man in the drone delivery process, Amazon’s proposed approach in the US is a bit more direct. Amazon wants its drones to deliver parcels to individual houses. The problem is that due to regulations and bureaucratic measures, it’s not likely that we will see that in the US until 2020.

The Federal Aviation Administration is currently crafting official rules regarding drones, and as of now, drones cannot be flown out of line of sight of the operator.

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