Step aside, Amazon. Alibaba is also getting into the game of drones.
The Chinese e-commerce giant is now experimenting with delivering packages by drone, according to a new report from Tech in Asia. Alibaba is testing the new drone-based delivery system between Feb. 4 and 6, during which 450 customers of its Taobao online marketplace will have the opportunity to have their packages delivered by a small unmanned aerial vehicle.
Packages available for drone delivery must weigh less than 340 grams, and should arrive on customers’ doorsteps within one hour. At this point, the trail is very limited, as it’s only available to customers who live within a certain radius of Alibaba distribution sites in Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai.
In late 2013, Amazon announced it is experimenting with drones that will provide half-hour, same-day delivery, but said a formal introduction of the service, dubbed PrimeAir, is years away. Amazon chief Jeff Bezos showed off an early version of Amazon PrimeAir on 60 Minutes. “I know this looks like science fiction but it’s not,” Bezos told Charlie Rose.
One thing hampering the rollout of Amazon’s service is federal restrictions on the commercial use of drones. The Federal Aviation Administration is working on upgrading its rules to accommodate such services, but for now it’s slowly making headway by issuing waivers to specific firms.
Several photography, film, and TV production companies this week, for example, got the green light to operate drones for commercial purposes. The agency granted exemptions for eight companies, letting them fly small unmanned aircraft systems without an FAA-issued certificate of airworthiness because it found they do not pose a threat to national airspace users or national security. That brings the total number of exemption grants the agency has issued to 24, out of 342 requests it has received.
Meanwhile, drones are already being used to deliver things like medical supplies, books — even pizza — all around the world. A new Wired report highlights some of their uses around the globe, such as dispatching painkillers and anticoagulants across the North Sea; antibiotics to a remote health clinic in Bhutan; textbooks to students at University of Sydney; and even pizza to the lucky residents of Syktyvkar, Russia.
For more, see some of the drones of CES 2015 in the slideshow above. Also watch the video below, which tackles the all-important question of whether you should be drinking and droning.