Following the footsteps of Amazon and Google, China's E-Commerce Giant Alibaba on Wednesday tested its first drone delivery service, delivering whisk ginger tea to customers within an hour despite tight controls on airspace.
Alibaba partnered with a logistics firm called YTO Express on the scheme to deliver online orders from China's largest customer-to-customer shopping site taobao.com. The tea will be delivered through drone service in China’s capital city, Beijing, and business hubs Shanghai and Guangzhou. The service will be limited to just three days, from Wednesday to Friday.
According to the company's blog, Alibaba will use small, remote-controlled quadcopters to deliver orders of ginger tea to 450 shoppers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. A video that was posted online shows drones carrying tea, flying high above the busy city until landing outside a residential building where the package can be collected by a customer.
"For consumers... such a cool consumption experience will give them more surprises," Taobao said in a statement on its microblog.
YTO Express said packages will be delivered within one hour of taobao.com receiving online orders. The company has laid some conditions for the three-day test. Customers must be within a particular radius and each drone will only carry products limited to about 340 grams for every delivery. Buyers must also order a designated brand of ginger tea online.
YTO's market planning department manager, Qin Xiaochun said the company is seeking possibilities for the commercial operation of drone deliveries. "In the future, we will bring in professional researchers of airborne deliveries to help us," Qin said.
China’s airspace is strictly controlled with the majority used by the military. Lately, several U.S. and at least one Chinese company have tested drone deliveries, but they all had little scope due to lack of regulations for drone operations in both countries. The Chinese government permits restricted use of civil drones for activities ranging from rescue to observation, and operators are required to apply for permission beforehand.
Both U.S. and Chinese retailers are urging their respective regulating agencies to expedite the approvals of drone flights for delivery of goods.
The Federal Aviation Administration, the agency that regulates U.S. air space recently issued eight more licenses to drone operators while a huge number of requests are still awaiting their approval.
Other additional restrictions include, commercial drone pilots are required to have at least a private pilot's license and a medical certificate, while the drone should stay within the pilot's vision during the entire flight.