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China Breakthroughs: Take a flying leap with aerial drone deliveries

Editor: Qian Ding 丨CCTV.com

07-06-2017 11:16 BJT

By Tom McGregor, CCTV.com Panview commentator and editor

The e-Commerce industry will continue to grow as more consumers rely on it. Going to a mall or department store has lost most of its appeal in China, since nearly all Chinese citizens have smartphones with access to Wifi (internet connections).

They can log on to Alibaba's Taobao or TMall, or JD.com, or numerous other e-Commerce sites and browse. With a few clicks, they can complete online purchases in a few moments, by paying via WeChat, a popular Chinese Social Media site, or Alipay.

To generate higher sales volumes, online shopping sites offer a wider range of products and services at lower prices. Such discounts attract more customers, but distributors must find methods to make deliveries faster, cheaper and more efficient.

Air delivery drones to the rescue

China's second-largest e-Commerce player, JD.com, handles all its deliveries to customers through JD Logistics and never uses postal services or 3rd-party delivery.

JD.com has expanded its customer base in China by offering, same-day or next day package delivery to over 600 million customers nationwide.

To reach out to rural buyers, JD.com has launched "Last Mile Delivery" to consumers living in remote regions.

According to Chinese website, Lanjing TMT, Xiao Jun, president of JD's X-Business Division, disclosed last November, his company is testing aerial drones for short-distance deliveries.

JD's main drones have 3 - axis; 6 - propellers and can carry 33-lbs. of cargo up to a distance of 12-km. A one-way flight at maximum distance can take about 20 minutes.

JD plans to deploy hundreds of drones to carry thousands of packages daily. The benefits include upgrades on efficiency and lower operations costs for JD logistics system.

Super-sized delivery drones

Last May, Popular Science reported that the Shaanxi Provincial Government has approved flight routes for JD Logistics to operate hundreds of drones in a 300-km. radius.

Drones can carry 1-ton or higher payloads up to 183-km. in distance. JD Logistics will open a 30-acre logistics and robotics research center at its regional headquarters in Xi'an. The company will welcome a cloud computing center and drone factory as well.

The center would encourage farmers to use aerial drones to deliver crops to warehouses. JD Logistics will utilize Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled logistics network to ensure safe and speedy deliveries.

China's Air Force and the nation's Civil Aviation Administration has already granted permission for JD.com to flight-test the drones and to set up multiple flight routes.

The goal is to expand the project, so farmers can deliver large payloads of crops to different provinces.

SF Express on the go

China's largest package delivery service, SF Express (SF Holdings Ltd.) has also obtained landmark licenses from the People Liberation Army (PLA) to use drones to deliver commercial packages.

PLA's Eastern Theater Command, one of the 5 national military commands, has authorized SF Express to fly aerial drones in five counties of Nankang District, Ganzhou, Jiangxi Province.

The company plans to open its first drone pilot demonstration zone and if proven successful, SF Express will expand services to remote and mountainous regions of the country.

Last Thursday (June 29), the first test flight was completed. SF Express has drawn up plans for several types of drone deliveries with maximum payloads - 25-kg. and flight range up to 100-km.

Shenzhen-based SF Express has invested in smart distribution logistics and drone delivery systems, while holding 151 patents for specialized drone R&D (research and development) and business operations systems.

Headed for hilltops

When it comes to e-Commerce logistics, delivering packages to isolated residents in mountainous areas remain the biggest challenge. A number of factors are at play.

Mountainous terrain is not conducive for building large warehouse that serve as distribution centers. The isolated areas make such warehouses unprofitable to operate as well.

Couriers, people who deliver packages, must traverse treacherous roads and travel long distances. All-weather aerial drones can shorten delivery times.

Accordingly, the CEO of JD Logistics Liu Qiangdong, announced plans to open up 150 operations sites for drone deliveries in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province, which is well-known for its mountains.

All sites are scheduled to open up within three years and expected to reduce freight costs in the province by over 70 percent.

Flying high on bold dreams

JD.com is likely to be the biggest player in using aerial drones to deliver commercial packages for the next few years.

"JD.com will be the first in the world to test drone delivery on this scale," Digital Journal quotes a press release from JD Logistics as saying. "We envision a network that will be able to efficiently transport goods between cities and even between provinces in the future.”

SF Express will expand the aerial drone delivery service in China as well.

Yet, some American hi-tech experts have praised Amazon, the US-based e-Commerce giant, for promoting aerial drone deliveries.

Nonetheless, Chinese logistics firms have already made tremendous progress and introduced groundbreaking innovations in the field of drone deliveries.

Aerial drones can deliver packages to remote regions in shorter times and at significantly lower costs.

Meanwhile, new steps have been taken to transport large payloads of crops on super-sized aerial drones. Hence, the sky is the limit in what China can achieve in the drone deliveries service sector.

Tmcgregorchina@yahoo.com

 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com)


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