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JD.com uses logistics drones as coronavirus disrupts traffic in China

With most Chinese citizens hunkering down at home to wait for the outbreak to subside, some delivery routes are no longer serviceable by normal means.

Photo: Provided by JD.com

With many Chinese citizens remaining at home to avoid infection, people are relying on online purchases and home deliveries for supplies. Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com has completed its first delivery by drone to a village near Baiyang Lake in Northern China’s Hebei province. More packages will be shipped to their destinations in the same manner during the coronavirus outbreak, according to JD.com’s website and official WeChat account.

The delivery took place on Friday, with the drone taking off and carrying goods for about two kilometers, traveling over the lake to land in Liuzhuang village to drop its payload. The package contained snacks, electronics, and daily necessities.

This particular delivery route was previously facilitated by boat, but service has been disrupted due to the coronavirus outbreak. Land-based routes would require a 100-kilometer detour.

This makes JD.com the first company to use drones for consumer deliveries in China as respiratory infections sweep through the country. As of 10:30 a.m. on Monday, the coronavirus has inflicted sickness in more than 40,200 individuals in the Chinese mainland and claimed 909 lives. Human-to-human contact is discouraged to curb the spread of the deadly virus. Many work places have shut down, flights have been cancelled, and transportation is limited across China.

The drone delivery is part of JD.com’s actions to ensure timely and safe shipments during a critical time. On Thursday, using level 4 (L4) self-driving vehicles, the company delivered a batch of goods to a hospital in Wuhan, the quarantined epicenter of the viral outbreak and capital of Central China’s Hubei province.

State-owned China Post, JD Logistics (JD.com’s logistics arm), Suning Logistics (the logistics arm of retailer Suning), and SF Express are the only four consumer-facing shipping companies operating during the outbreak, which began before the Lunar New Year holiday.

JD.com said that it plans to employ drone deliveries in other cities, such as Hohhot, the capital of northern China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region, and Jilin, a city in Northeast China’s Jilin province.

The Chinese e-commerce giant has developed seven types of delivery drones, which have accumulated more than 6,600 hours of flight time in more than 100 routes since October 2015, according to a fact sheet posted by the company in March 2019.

The company performed government-endorsed drone deliveries in Indonesia in January 2019, aiming to lower delivery costs and streamline the package delivery process in the archipelagic nation.