China-based e-commerce retailer JD.com has carried out thousands of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) delivery tests in remote rural areas of four provinces since June 2016.
It is also adding 150 UAV stations in Sichuan Province "in the short-to-medium term," a JD.com representative told Jane's , referring to the plan as an "aspirational goal".
This expansion would enable JD.com - the second largest online retailer in China behind Alibaba - to serve more provinces and villages. "We'd rather not call the facilities 'airports', as some publications have referred to them," the official added.
The UAV infrastructure plan was developed by JDX, the logistics research and development arm of JD.com. JDX focused on innovative solutions to transport items from warehouses to customers in a faster, cheaper, and more efficient way.
UAVs are used to extend the JD.com delivery and logistics network in remote areas that are without road and air connections. Around 80% of its orders come from rural locations such as the outskirts of Beijing, and the provinces of Jiangsu, Shaanxi, and Sichuan.
"We believe we are the first e-commerce company in the world to put drone technology to this kind of commercial use," said a company statement - although Alibaba began trialling deliveries by quadcopter in 2015.
JD.com employs a different method to Amazon, which aims to deliver goods directly to the customer. In rural China, a local village promoter helps customers to select products and make purchases online. The orders are then processed and packed at a regional delivery centre in a nearby town and loaded onto the UAV, which follows a fixed route after take-off.
JD.com has more than 300,000 village promoters throughout China. Once the promoter takes delivery of the goods, the UAV returns to base along the same fixed route. A 20-minute delivery time by road is cut to just five minutes by UAV, the company claims.
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