The initial scope of Alibaba’s experiment is small. The company’s online Taobao bazaar is inviting 450 shoppers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to try parcel deliveries by drones. They will only deliver ginger tea packages under the Shou Quanzhai brand during the three-day trial carried out with Shanghai-based YTO the company says.
“This is a one-off campaign where ginger tea packets ordered on Taobao can be delivered to designated cities or regions within an hour,” Alibaba said in an e-mailed note. “We’re unsure about future possibilities yet, but this is our first drone delivery service campaign.”
The drones can each carry a maximum weight of 1 kilogram and fly a maximum distance of 10 kilometers, according to Xue Ren, a YTO spokesperson. Ren said the express-delivery firm is just testing the market and has no immediate plan to expand the service.
Alibaba’s Taobao online shop is working with delivery firm Shanghai YTO Express to carry out the tests, which use branded, radio-controlled quadcopters to deliver packages to a trial group of 450 customers.
Alibaba isn’t alone in using delivery drones, as courier company SF express, also in China, has been testing quadcopters to work alongside its fleet of scooters, vans and airplanes since 2013.