China’s second largest e-tailer, JD.com has been making commercial drone deliveries in at least four pilot regions scattered across China since June 2016, and has plans to rapidly increase its drone program in 2017, according to recode. JD already has regulatory approval to operate drones in four provinces, along twenty pre-selected routes. By the end 2017, the group’s CEO hopes to expand this to 100.
Unlike Amazon and other companies looking to make deliveries to individual households, JD is, at present, not even attempting to make drone deliveries to individual residences, nor to customers residing within megacities like Shanghai and Beijing. Rather, the company sees drones as especially suitable for rural areas where urban density poses no obstacle to unchallenged drone operations, and where poor transportation infrastructure inhibits efficient courier delivery.
In effort to bring the convenience of e-commerce to rural parts of China, JD launched drone deliveries in four pilot cities during the run-up to last year’s November 11 “Single’s Day” shopping festival – what has quickly become the peak period for e-commerce logistics in China. The pilot begins with the deployment of what it calls village promoters. The promoter’s function is to assist with order processing and act as a liaison between the village and JD, ensuring villagers are able to connect to, and navigate the site.
The delivery model is standardized, as can be seen from the chart at left. Packages are trucked from a JD warehouse, to a local delivery station where five models of the fully-automated drones are available to accommodate parcels of varying volumes and weights. A single drone carries between eight and 15 packages weighing up to 15kg. Once orders are received, a drone operator dispatches the drone along pre-planned routes to designated drop zones in the village.