China’s largest online retailer, JD.com Inc., has announced plans to develop drone aircraft capable of carrying a ton or more for long-distance deliveries, after reaching an agreement with the provincial government of Shaanxi to build China’s largest low-altitude drone logistics network.
The network will span a 200 mile (300 km) radius, and include hundreds of routes and drone air bases throughout the entire province for e-commerce shipments and more. Wang Zhenhui, CEO of JD Logistics, said in a statement:
“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.”
JD.com, headquartered in Beijing, says it made its first deliveries to customers using smaller drones in November. Other e-commerce brands, including Amazon.com Inc., also are experimenting with drones for delivery.
JD.com operates its own nationwide network of thousands of delivery stations manned by 65,000 employees and has 235 million regular customers. Drones are an important part of the industry’s response to the challenges of rural areas, where distances and delivery costs are rising.
JD.com has also committed to establishing a research and development campus in partnership with the Xi’an National Civil Aerospace Industrial Base (XCAIB), where unmanned systems will be developed, manufactured, and tested. This will be a first of its kind in China.
The campus will include a global headquarters for JD Logistics, a center for unmanned systems, and a facility for JD’s cloud computing and big data operations. XCAIB will provide 3.1 miles (5 km) of pipeline airspace, 1,500 square-meters of drone R&D space, and will have more than 30 acres for flight tests.
By providing more high-tech employment and modernizing industries in the region, the partnership is being seen as a step toward promoting economic development in Shaanxi.
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