Delivery Drones Take to China’s Skies in Alibaba Test

Talk about your pilot(less) projects. Alibaba Group’s Taobao Marketplace shopping website and Shanghai YTO Express Logistics Co. today began a trial of delivery drones technology in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Over a three-day period, parcel-packing quadcopters will be used to ferry boxed sets of ginger tea high above city traffic to 450 Taobao shoppers who purchase the tea for RMB 49. The remote-controlled drones won’t be flown right to consumers’ doors. They’ll be landed outside residential buildings, where packages will be collected by human-type couriers for last-mile duty.

By conducting the trial, Taobao and YTO Express officials aren’t hinting that drone-delivery service is ripe for commercialization in the PRC. As a Bloomberg News story points out, aviation authorities in China and the U.S. are pondering regulations to govern such activities. Alibaba characterized the three-day trial as a “one-off campaign.”

Check out this video from Taobao showing a delivery drone in action in Beijing: