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22 May, 2017 17:00

Drones capable of carrying 1-ton cargo part of Alibaba rival’s grand project

Drones capable of carrying 1-ton cargo part of Alibaba rival’s grand project

Drones capable of carrying more than a ton of goods to long-distance deliveries are part of plans by one of China’s biggest online retailers to develop a massive logistics network covering remote locations.

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.

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

It plans to introduce heavy-duty UAVs (drones) capable of delivering payloads weighing over 1 ton to take goods to remote villages and agriculture produce back to cities.

“JD.com will be the first in the world to test drone delivery on this scale. We envision a network that will be able to efficiently transport goods between cities, and even between provinces, in the future,” said Wang Zhenhui, CEO of JD Logistics, the company’s logistics business group formed in April.

The company said it will partner with the Xi'an National Civil Aerospace Industrial Base to develop and manufacture drones. A joint drone campus will also host JD Logistics’ global headquarters and a cloud computing and big data center.

Drone use is slowly making a mark on retail logistics, even though hurdles remain such as air traffic regulations and the danger of collision with birds. 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.