Drone deliveries will be a real thing soon, in China. Source: Shutterstock

China bets big on civilian cargo drones

DRONES, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), can make a significant contribution to retail and business to business logistics.

American companies like Amazon and Dominoes, have in the past, worked on prototypes that lift, carry, and drop-off parcels and pizzas.

However, such projects haven’t really taken off due to a lack of regulation and concerns about safety and security.

In China, where regulations are easily changed to meet (and support) advances in technology, drones are preparing to take on a bigger role.

The country is experimenting with drones and how the technology can be adapted to deliver civilian cargo drones.

According to an article in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), Beihang Unmanned Aircraft System is developing drones that be able to carry cargo weighing from one metric tonne to 1.5 tonnes by next year.

The delivery drone, which is 11.9 meters long with a wingspan of 19.6 meters, will be able to fly a distance of 1,500 kilometers with cargo weighing one tonne, or 1,000 kilometers carrying 1.2 tonnes, the company told the SCMP, adding that it could reach a top speed of 400 kilometers per hour.

Another example is SF Express, China’s largest publicly listed courier.

The company has developed a delivery drone with a wingspan of 20 metres and length of 10 meters that can carry 1.2 tonnes of cargo. That drone can fly 3,000 kilometres and reach a height of 6,000 metres, according to a company statement in December.

In fact, the company was the first to get a license from the Civil Aviation Administration (CAAC), the country’s civil aviation regulator, for pilot operations of drone deliveries to a Jiangxi-based subsidiary of SF Express.

However, China hasn’t just woken up to the growing effectiveness of cargo drones. In October last year, Xinhua reported that it’s heaviest cargo UAV completed its maiden flight in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province Thursday.

The AT200 drone, built on a P750XL utility aircraft, jointly developed by several research institutes and companies, made a successful 26-minute maiden flight.

The UAV can carry a payload of 1.5 tonnes and has a maximum flying speed of 313 km per hour, a flight range of 2,183 kilometers, and a 6,098-meter service ceiling.

Bloomberg, who inquired with China’s delivery-industry watchdog, the State Post Bureau found that more than 40 billion parcels were shipped around China in 2017. Volumes are expected to reach 49 billion parcels this year.

Therefore, drone deliveries seem like a good idea to the country’s digital-age e-commerce companies. If reports are to be believed, whether to a nearby airport or to your backyard, drone deliveries will be a thing real soon.