JD Given Green Light to Test Unmanned Delivery Across Shaanxi Province

摘要: What's JD up to with the five latest cooperation agreements centered around unmanned logistics? Why did JD choose Xi'an and Hancheng city of Shaanxi province instead of first-tier cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to test its unmanned delivery drones? What stage has JD, and the Chinese unmanned delivery market, entered?

(Chinese Version)
Richard Liu Qiangdong, board chairman and CEO of JD Group, was entering the venue for the signing ceremony.

Richard Liu Qiangdong, board chairman and CEO of JD Group, was entering the venue for the signing ceremony.

It was not until this year that JD’s logistics headquarter in Xi’an, Shaanxi province was unveiled to the public.

This February, JD signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Shaanxi provincial government over smart logistics and announced that JD would establish the first low-altitude unmanned logistics network around the world. Following, JD signed a cooperation agreement with Xi’an Aerospace Base in May and decided to locate its Global Logistics Headquarter, Unmanned Logistics Headquarter and JD Cloud Shaanxi Big Data Operation Headquarter all in Xi’an.

On August 29th, 2017, JD again signed five cooperation agreements centered around the keyword “unmanned logistics”.

This time, JD teamed up with Hancheng city government, Linyou County, Longhao Group, Western Airport Group and Northwestern Polytechnical University and agreed on a variety of issues, including the construction of demonstration projects, talent cultivation, research development, technology application, etc.

On the same day, Shaanxi provincial government returned JD with a huge favor: JD was conferred written approval over the usage of unmanned airspace across Shaanxi province.

Besides, JD has officially initiated its unmanned vehicle competition in an attempt to make it as popular and authoritative in unmanned vehicle circle as the “F1” in formula racing. JD was quite generous this time. In fact, the prize for teams whose drones flew across the Qinling Mountains reached over RMB 100 million.

At the signing ceremony, Xiao Jun, president of JD X Business Group, revealed to the public for the first time the unmanned logistics system of JD. According to Xiao, JD’s over 800 drones had completed a test flight of 4,000 kilometers and 14,000 minutes as of July 31st.

At present, a three-layer unmanned vehicle logistics system has been established at JD. At the same time, a series of matching infrastructure and technologies have been established, including Dispatch Center, Service Center, R&D Center, Manufacturing Center, etc.
Since drones are still not mass-manufactured, their operation cost is slightly higher than that of existing logistics system, which relies heavily on deliverymen in all levels.

“The cost varies a great deal between manufacturing one to two drones and tens of thousands of drones. After mass-manufacture is achieved, manufacturing cost is expected to drop by 50 per cent,” Xiao explained.

JD VT1, a logistics drone that could fly for over 200 kilometers and carry packages weighing at least 200 kilograms.

JD VT1, a logistics drone that could fly for over 200 kilometers and carry packages weighing at least 200 kilograms.

At the signing ceremony, JD debuted several drones. Among them, JD VT1 is certainly one of the most potent model, since it could fly for over 200 kilometers and carry packages weighing at least 200 kilograms. All these drones could fly along the specified course and returned accordingly after delivering the package.

Why didn't JD test unmanned delivery in first-tier cities?

From the unmanned logistics system in February to the Global Logistics Center in May, the ancient city Xi’an is becoming increasingly important to JD.

In the cooperation with Hancheng city government, JD made it even clearer that it would set up a demonstration platform of unmanned logistics and establish the first demonstration network of unmanned logistics covering the entire city.

However, demand for logistics service and consumption capability are a lot higher in first-tier cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, compared with those of Hancheng. So, why did JD choose Hancheng?

Well, above all, this has to do with the tight control over unmanned logistics bigger cities. After all, it’s still quite controversial if unmanned logistics vehicles could be counted as civil aircrafts and subject to relevant rules and regulations.

Comparatively speaking, drones are controlled in a stricter manner in first-tier cities. In fact, low-altitude flight is forbidden in first-tier cities. In Beijing, areas within the Sixth Ring are all no-fly zones. Therefore, there isn’t much room for JD to test its system. Rumor had it the other days that JD planned to set up an unmanned logistic vehicle test-flight center near the South Sixth Ring in Daxing District, though JD soon denied the rumor.

In addition, since the logistic market in bigger cities have already been saturated, drones are in dire need of in mid and small-sized cities.

“We’ve come to find that many areas are almost inaccessible for deliverymen, even if they might be only 10 kilometers away from bigger cities,” Josh Gartner, JD’s spokesperson, once said.

Both Liang Gui, member of the Shaanxi Provincial CPC Standing Committee and standing deputy governor of Shaanxi province, Wang Yongkang, member of the Shaanxi Provincial CPC Standing Committee and Secretary of the CPC Xi’an City Committee, attended the signing ceremony and made a speech, respectively.

Both Liang Gui, member of the Shaanxi Provincial CPC Standing Committee and standing deputy governor of Shaanxi province, Wang Yongkang, member of the Shaanxi Provincial CPC Standing Committee and Secretary of the CPC Xi’an City Committee, attended the signing ceremony and made a speech, respectively.

It’s obvious that Xi’an city government and Shaanxi provincial government are very much supportive of unmanned logistics. It is worth noticing that both Liang Gui, member of the Shaanxi Provincial CPC Standing Committee and standing deputy governor of Shaanxi province, and Wang Yongkang, member of the Shaanxi Provincial CPC Standing Committee and Secretary of the CPC Xi’an City Committee, attended the signing ceremony and made a speech, respectively.

“I was impressed with Xi’an city government’s strategic vision, innovative spirit and service awareness. It was their high service efficiency that set my mind to establish our unmanned logistics center in Xi’an,” Richard Liu Qiangdong, board chairman and CEO of JD Group, said in an interview with the official magazine of the Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Central Committee of the CPC.

When shall unmanned logistics be put into wide practice?

Since Amazon announced its plan to adopt unmanned vehicles to deliver goods in 2013, drones have become an important variable in the eyes of logistics-based e-commerce giants. Through generation of product upgrade, Amazon completed delivering the first package (an Amazon Fire TV and a bag of popcorn) for a British customer through Prime Air drone at the end of 2016. From the time the customer placed the order to the time the customer received the package, it only took 13 minutes.

At the same time, Google and Walmart have also been testing unmanned delivering service, though no clues suggest that drones could be put into large-scale commercial use.

In China, however, the competition in unmanned logistics lies mainly between JD and SF Express. However, these two market leaders in China are both at the stage of testing the service at present.

As early as 2012, Wang Wei, president of SF Express, already come up with the idea of unmanned logistics. This June, SF Express and Nankang District of Ganzhou city government co-submitted airspace application for unmanned logistics drones and later received the official response from Eastern Theater Command of PLA.

Compared with SF Express, although JD was three years later in launching the project, it soon caught up within two years. In June 2016, JD tested unmanned logistics service for the first time in Suqian city and became the first company to receive the permission to test unmanned logistics service across a province.

“Still, the unmanned vehicle industry has to face three major challenges, including short duration, low stability and low loading capacity”. Liu Yanguang, general manager of Unmanned Vehicle R&D Center of JD X Business Group, explained.

These three problems have to be properly dealt with before the industry achieved any breakthrough.

“By 2025, market scale of the Chinese unmanned vehicle market is expected to rise to RMB 75 billion (from RMB 8 billion in 2017). Besides, drones would be widely applied in many areas, including logistics, aerial photography, communication, traffic monitoring, etc.,” he predicted.

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[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @Cai Pengcheng. Please note the source and hyperlink when reproduce.]       

 Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.  

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