Chinese Retailer JD.com Developing Heavy-Load Drones, Delivery Network
The largest online retailer in China has its sights set on delivering the largest drone deliveries in the next few years. In a statement on its website, JD.com said it has reached an agreement with the provincial government of Shaanxi to build the “largest low-altitude drone logistics network” in China, which will include the use of heavy-load drones capable of carrying payloads of more than a ton.
Drone delivery is currently being tested in other parts of the world—including by Amazon here in the U.S.—but JD.com says it has been conducting drone deliveries to consumers since November 2016. The smaller drones are capable of delivering single packages to consumers’ homes. By contrast, the heavy-load drones that JD.com envisions developing will be able to transport “high-quality” products to remote areas and agricultural produce to cities.
At present, drone manufacturers haven’t been able to achieve the one-ton payload that JD.com is seeking, though some have been able to carry hundreds of kilograms at a time.
To build and test the new heavy-load drones and other unmanned systems, JD.com said it has established an R&D campus in partnership with the Xi’an National Civil Aerospace Industrial Base. New UASs will be designed, manufactured, and tested on the campus, which JD.com calls the “first of its kind” in China.
The drone delivery network that JD.com is developing with the Shaanxi government spans about 3400 kilometers and will include hundreds of routes and drone air bases throughout the province that will be used for e-commerce shipments.
“JD.com will be the first in the world to test drone delivery on this scale,” Wang Zhenhui, CEO of JD Logistics, the company’s newly-formed logistics business group, said in the statement. “We envision a network that will be able to efficiently transport goods between cities, and even between provinces, in the future.”
The Chinese e-commerce giant, which said it services more than 236 million customers, called the plan a major step in its ambitions for the logistics business. According to the statement, the company began developing its own logistics network as far back as 2007 when it realized that the existing infrastructure in China “wasn’t sufficient” enough to achieve the level of delivery service that it wanted for its customers.