Alibaba Runs Drone Delivery Trial in China While Amazon Waits on US Approval

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China's mega-e-tailer has started a test using drones to deliver tea packets in three Chinese cities. Does it mean they have left Amazon in the dust?

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba began its first trial drone deliveries this week. Meanwhile, Amazon continues to sit on its haunches in the United States, waiting on approval for a similar drone test program.

The Chinese drones are delivering ginger tea packets to 450 people in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Bloomberg reports.

“The flights, if successful and uncontested by authorities, would give the budding commercial drone industry a boost in China, where the military allots only a fifth of the airspace to civilian use,” Bloomberg said.

Alibaba’s drone tests are undoubtedly frustrating for Amazon, which is struggling to launch a drone-testing program in the United States. According to Bloomberg, Amazon has begun testing remote deliveries outside the country, but is still waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to approve U.S. tests.

Zhang Qihuai, an attorney at Lanpeng Law Firm in China, told Bloomberg that a lot of work needs to be done before commercial drone deliveries can move forward.

“China is still in the initial phase of establishing regulations on commercial usage of drones, a lot of areas are still completely blank,” Zhang said.

Although it looks like the Chinese e-tailer is beating Amazon to the punch, Forbes said the Alibaba drone testing is primarily a publicity stunt.

It’s the same as if a drone delivered you a K-Cup, yet you’d still need the Keurig machine to get the end product. Until they figure out how to deliver hot tea in a cup that’s ready to be consumed on delivery, this is nothing more than a gimmick and even less something that’s economically viable.

The Chinese drone’s maximum payload is about two pounds, but the tea packets they’re delivering only weigh a few ounces. Forbes noted:

But even if these drones were to deliver other products, the options for drone delivery would be very limited. So unless you need a toothbrush or one shoe, you’ll have to select the traditional, manned shipping options.

According to Forbes, drone deliveries will not become a reality until regulations are set for unmanned aircraft and technology improves.

What do you think of the potential for drone deliveries in the U.S.? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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