Tech

Chinese drone delivery gets set to overtake U.S. efforts.

A new standard will expand delivery options for those in rural areas, and continue to shame U.S. efforts at similar endeavors.

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It’s about to be open season for drone delivery in China. In a statement from autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) company EHang, a new standard for unmanned aircraft delivery was announced — the Specification for Express Delivery Service by Unmanned Aircraft.

Experts from EHang, online retailer JD.com, and delivery service ZTO Express contributed to the creation of the standard, which is set to go into effect on January 1, 2020. The standard permits express delivery using drones with a “maximum empty aircraft weight of 116kg (250 pounds), a maximum takeoff weight of 150kg (110 pounds), and an airspeed of no greater than 100 km/h (62 mph).”

Blue skies are shining on Big Business — ZTO Express tested its first drone delivery three years ago and has patiently waited for the government to catch up so that it can better serve rural Chinese towns and villages. JD.com started implementing drone deliveries earlier this year as the coronavirus interrupted usual delivery routes, also focused on rural areas.

The streamlined enterprise with a penchant for automation arguably has the biggest headstart on drone delivery infrastructure in commerce. With this new standard, JD.com is poised to lap its competitors. At least in China. It may struggle to get certification in other regions, but given the size of China's population, that may not be too big a problem.

EHang long ago pivoted away from drones to focus on urban air mobility (UAM), so its involvement in the standard’s creation is more forward-looking. The implementation of this standard will have ripple effects on how electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft will be regulated and could be a precursor to the world's first commercial passenger drones.

The U.S. is getting there — It’s no secret that Chinese drone companies and applications have outpaced their U.S. equivalents. The biggest couriers and companies are still in testing phases for their drone delivery services, though they’ve all been able to ramp up due to the pandemic.

While the Trump administration can chalk up its anti-Chinese drone sentiments to espionage worries, the jealousy is thinly veiled as the U.S. continues to fall behind its Asian opposition when it comes to cutting edge technology... and the appetite to implement it.