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Buying goods online and getting them delivered is easy if you live in a large city. But if you live in rural China, your options are limited with local stores charging higher prices and offering less choice.
Now Chinese e-commerce retailer JD.com, one of the country's largest online shopping sites – second only to Alibaba -- is trying to make life easier for rural dwellers, by building 150 drone launch centers in Sichuan, chief executive Richard Liu has announced.
The announcement was made as part of talks with the government last week for a broader logistics agreement in the province, a spokesperson confirmed to CNBC via email. The new drone sites will help reduce shipping costs by 70 percent, Liu said.
JD.com has been developing its drone capabilities since October 2015 via its JDX innovation lab. It started trialing flights in June 2016, using the devices to deliver to rural China, the company explained in an online statement posted in November 2016.
"In areas where complex terrain and poor infrastructure makes last mile logistics challenging, JD drones can deliver orders from regional delivery stations to JD's dedicated 'village promoters' in each village, who then distribute the orders directly to customers, shortening delivery times and reducing costs." It now has around 300,000 village promoters, it added.
"Many rural residents have traditionally had far fewer buying choices than their urban counterparts. That's because they could purchase goods only from local stores, where they often find higher prices than are typically seen in the cities, and where counterfeit goods remain an issue," the statement said.
The company has five models of drone that can fly up to 100km per hour, delivering packages weighing 5 to 15 kilos, and it is looking to have drones that can carry up to 500 kilos. The maximum distance they can travel is 50km before recharging.
JD.com isn't the only company looking at delivery by drone. Amazon has partnered with the U.K. government to test drone deliveries, and recently designed a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) with robotic wingtips and legs that act as landing gear to help them touch down on uneven surfaces.
But U.K. citizens aren't happy with how drones are being used, according to figures out in April. In 2016, there were 10 drone incidents a day, including allegations of snooping neighbors, burglary and near-misses with aircraft.
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