Chinese online food delivery platform Ele.me, an entity owned by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, said it has been granted approval by authorities to fly drones for assisting in food delivery.
Seventeen routes have been approved, all of which are in the Shanghai Jinshan Industrial Park, which occupies an area of around 58 square kilometers.
The use of drones is expected to shorten delivery times for food orders to a significant extent.
Each of the routes approved has two fixed drop-off locations, according to Engadget.
Ele.me will use drones to deliver food on behalf of more than 100 food merchants, including Starbucks, Ruyi Wonton and Shaxian Delicacies.
The initial delivery process will still rely on manpower, so the role of real-life delivery staff has not been wholly superseded.
The food delivery journey, according to Ele.me, comes in three parts.
Drones only take care of the middle part. The online food delivery platform still deploys manpower to handle the initial and last parts.
Delivery staff will place the food in the drone and then controls the gadget via a mobile app.
The drone model in previous trials could fly at a peak speed of 65 kilometers and carry a maximum 10-kilogram load. But in daily operations, it just flies at 36 kilometers per hour at most, and it can carry the best food load of six kilograms, flying only 20 kilometers.
There are currently about 20 million food delivery orders every day in China. The order volume is anticipated to grow over 60 percent annually, reaching more than 100 million per day.
To cope with the rapidly expanding business, Ele.me said it will continue seeking new technologies to improve the food delivery service.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 31
Translation by Jonathan Chong
[Chinese version 中文版]
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