Chinese Online Retailer is Developing One-Ton Delivery Drones

Chinese online retailer, JD.com Inc., announced plans to develop drone aircraft capable of carrying a ton or more for long-distance deliveries. The company said it will test the drones on a network it is developing to cover the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi. It said they will carry consumer goods to remote areas and farm produce to cities.

The network would span a 300km radius and include hundreds of routes and drone bases, the company said Monday in a statement.

Chinese online retailer Delivery drone.

JD.com is the main competitor of Alibaba in Chinese e-commerce, albeit with a different business model. While Alibaba serves as a marketplace for producers, JD.com operates similarly to Amazon, selling goods directly through its logistic network. JD.com is soon to be expanded, having reached an agreement with the authorities in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi, where it plans to test a network of low-altitude drone deliveries.

"We envision a network that will be able to efficiently transport goods between cities, and even between provinces, in the future," the chief executive of JD's logistics business group, Wang Zhenhui, said in a statement.

JD.com operates its own nationwide network of thousands of delivery stations manned by 65,000 employees. The company says it has 235 million regular customers. Drones are part of the industry's response to the challenge of expanding to rural areas where distances and delivery costs rise.

Drone delivery in China and other countries faces hurdles including airspace restrictions and the need to avoid collisions with birds and other obstacles. In the United States, regulators allow commercial drone flights only on an experimental basis.

The 1 ton cargo delivery pledged by JD.com is more than most of the drones currently available can carry, though models with even greater capabilities are in development. Amazon, for example, envisions a robotic airship which would serve as a floating warehouse for its goods and smaller delivery drones.

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