As China’s local-delivery market grows at a rapid pace, with more people turning to their smartphones to order food, Ele.me has been cleared to deliver orders in a Shanghai industrial park by drone. However, the system won’t bring meals to their final destinations — only to select drop-off points, the South China Morning Post reported.
With the drone delivery system, Ele.me customers would be able to order meals through their smartphones and have them delivered soon after confirming an order. In terms of logistics, Ele.me’s workers would collect multiple orders and place them inside a drone at the route’s starting point. Once drones reached a drop-off location, workers would distribute the meals to the final destination. With drone deliveries, Ele.me could have lower operating costs, since less human delivery drivers would be needed to transport the company’s deliveries. Furthermore, Ele.me wouldn’t charge customers extra for using the drone delivery service.
As of now, Ele.me has people delivering food on motorbikes across China — and Ele.me is hardly the only company in China working on drone delivery. ZTO Express, an express delivery company, believes that using drones to deliver goods in rural China is possible. In an interview with CNBC last November, ZTO Express CFO James Guo revealed that ZTO’s latest drone delivery tests “went well.”
“We just completed our testing of drone use a few months ago,” Guo said in November. “This is still at the trial testing period because we need to get a license from the government in order to use drones for commercial [purposes]. But the testing went well, because we successfully reduced delivery time by about 60 percent.”
In the interview, Guo also said that drone delivery could be especially helpful for Chinese shoppers in rural areas, improving overall accessibility of Chinese businesses to those remote places, as well as reducing losses and delivery times for the entire network. And, in the U.S., Amazon sees drones as a useful way to handle last-mile deliveries.
For example, Amazon has a new patent in its portfolio — this time for technology that allows self-driving trucks to interface with drones. With the technology, Amazon could have the trucks give the packages to drones — or, say, cars, bike messengers or robotic couriers — to make the deliveries, Chain Store Age reported.
However, this is not the first patent that Amazon has received for drone-related technology. The retailer was awarded a patent earlier this year for a drone that will use recognition of human gestures and voice commands to deliver packages. Will other companies include these features in their drones? That remains to be seen. But drones are expected to start making more of an appearance.
According to Jay Merkle, a senior Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air-traffic control official, that rollout could be delayed if security issues aren’t successfully addressed, but some companies — and government agencies — working toward delivery and other drone applications “think they might be ready to operate this summer.”