JD.com has kicked off drone delivery to rural towns and villages in China, becoming the first commercial service to use flying vehicles to deliver products.
The service was launched as part of Singles’ Day, the largest online shopping event in the country, which usually picks up $17.6 billion in sales in a 24 hour period. It’s bigger that Cyber Monday and Black Friday in the Western World put together, making it the perfect opportunity to try out drones as a delivery method.
“There have been thousands of trial flights, with a portion of those delivering packages to customers,” Josh Gartner, spokesperson for JD told Fortune. “Everything went very smoothly with packages being delivered from four different bases across the country.”
Although the likes of Amazon are also planning delivery by drone, any companies hoping to do so in the UK or US have much more stringent guidelines they must adhere to in order to operate.
Although similar legislation affects China too, JD.com had received clearance from the government to ship packages weighing between five and 15kgs for up to 50km. This makes the drones perfect for reaching rural places from key hubs in Beijing, Jiangsu, Shaanxi, and Sichuan.
“China has the edge on the U.S. right now in terms of enabling fledgling drone delivery programs,” says Arthur Holland Michel, co-founder of the Center for the Study of the Drone. “But it is important to remember that both countries are still operating under evolving interim rules for drones.”
“What remains to be seen is whether China’s edge in drone delivery in the short term will have long-term consequences for adoption of drone delivery programs in both countries.”
“By the end of next year we’ll hopefully have over 100 routes available and in operation,” JD.com’s chief technology officer, Chen Zhang said.