Drone delivery has arrived in China.
SF Express, a courier in China, announced that one of its subsidiaries received the first official permit to deliver packages via drones.
The courier is focused on delivering items via drones to more sparsely populated areas. The company said it intends to use a few types of drones. Traditional manned aircraft will delivery items at large scale to major warehouses, followed by big drones delivering items to local warehouses and small drones making the actual deliveries to customers.
Tests of SF Express’s drones have been spotted as early as 2013, the same year Jeff Bezos announced that Amazon was working toward drone delivery. SF Express is the second largest courier in China after China Post.
With the new government approvals, SF Express can legally make deliveries in approved airspace. But that still doesn’t mean drones will be making deliveries anywhere and everywhere just yet. The flights are still in beta mode, with SF Express launching a pilot zone in the Nankang district of Ganzhou, a city in Jiangxi province, where it had already been testing drone deliveries. After that stage, drone delivery would expand across the entire provence.
China has made huge headway in the field of drone delivery. Another company called JD.com, which has been described as the Chinese version of Amazon, has a fleet of drones making deliveries near Beijing.
JD’s heavy-load drones can carry payloads weighing more than a ton and focuses on flying along fixed routes from warehouses to special landing pads in rural villages, where local contractors for the company then deliver the packages to the customers’ doorsteps.
That model is similar to that of Iceland’s Flytrex, which flies fixed routes from warehouses to specified points across the city. From there, a human courier handles the packages between that drop-off point and the customer’s house, filling in the “last mile,” or the customer can come to the drop-off point to receive it themselves.