China is speeding up the development of delivery drones

China wants to play a leading role worldwide in the production of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In December 2017 the government has published new guidelines for the civilian unmanned aircraft industry to support UAV development. The government expects the market value of the industry to increase by an average of 40 percent by 2020 to RMB 60 billion (£7 billion). The long-term growth goals are even more ambitious. By 2025 the Chinese government aims to more than triple the UAV industry to RMB 180 billion (£21 billion).

The new guidelines already had a positive effect on China’s UAV industry. One of the country’s largest online retailers,, announced a US$ 2.5 billion round of financing for its logistics subsidiary, including investments in automation, drones and robotics. The announcement was made by Richard Liu, Chairman and CEO of the Group in February 2018.

He even got support from Google. The search engine group invested US$ 550 million in JD in June, which was a likely move to improve the company’s standing compared to US logistics leader Amazon. In August 2018, a startup accelerator was announced to support the company’s UAV ambitions.

JD’s drone delivery plans focus on China’s remote rural areas which currently incur high delivery costs. With drone delivery the group wants to be able to deliver goods faster and cheaper to these regions, Richard Liu said in an interview with CNBC. Richard Liu expects that fully automated logistics will reduce costs by 70%.

Chinese online marketplace Alibaba also has made a move towards drone technology. According to the US magazine Popular Science, the e-commerce company has concrete plans to offer deliveries via drones. In tests drones collected meals and other packages in restaurants and shops at Jinshan Industrial Park and flew them to their delivery points. From there, human drivers transported them the last stretch to the customers. “By using planes the delivery services can bypass Shanghai’s crowded streets. This can reduce the total delivery time for customers in the area by over 20 minutes”, reporters observed. In the next few years Alibaba wants to roll out this service to other cities.

This delivery robot can transport up to 300 kilograms.

This delivery robot can transport up to 300 kilograms.

Chinese drone logistics isn’t solely focused on the last delivery stretch, which can account for more than 50% of the total delivery costs. Long-range drone delivery is another fiercely competitive development area.

According to a report, Alibaba subsidiary Cainiao is working with the University of Beijing on a long-range drone which has a payload of one tonne and a delivery range of 1,500 kilometres. First tests have been scheduled for 2020 and it is scheduled to be put into services by 2025. Meanwhile JD is developing a similar project with a 300 kilometre flight radius and a payload of one tonne.

UAV delivery on the road is comparably easier to design and implement. Traveling delivery robots are long commonly used in China and are part of the automated supply chain: JD’s carry a payload of up to 300 kilograms in 30 parcels, drive 15 km/h on bike lanes, stop at red lights and orientate themselves with their radar sensors.

Alibaba: Tmall wants to enter product development

China’s online giant Alibaba has teamed up with Shanghai Fashion Week to demonstrate what fashion shopping of the future can look like. New technologies are intended to close the gap between consumers, retailers and brands.

Virtual catwalks

The Shanghai Fashion Week took place in China’s most important fashion metropolis from 10 to 17 October. The event is an excellent opportunity for China’s leading online retailer Alibaba to show how in the future for retailers and consumers can benefit from these events.

Through the B2C online shop Tmall, the company invited the four Chinese fashion brands Me & City, IMMI, Banxiaoxue and Zhangshuai to trial new technology. Based on the brands’ design patterns, the Tmall software visualised the garments movements or predicted fits for different body types. Users were able to follow the virtual looks and live fashion week shows on the Taobao and Tmall apps.

Tmall wants to use this technology to give young designers, who cannot afford a “real” runway show, more online presence, commented Tmall’s Vice President of Fashion, Anita Lyu in an interview on the company’s own blog Alizila.

Heat maps measure visitor frequency

The Virtual Runway was just one of many new technology Tmall trialled at the Shanghai Fashion Week. A “showroom robot” allowed shoppers to take a closer look at products, talk to designers, and place orders in real time. Tmall technology also provided pedestrian heat maps throughout the showrooms that analysed which brands, items, clothing styles, colours and fabrics attracted the most attention.

Customising Runway Looks

The virtual show allowed users to tap on each garment and to view its details in 360 degree view. Users were able to change the measurements of the garments – from height and weight to chest, waist and hips – to see what the outfits would look like on their own virtual model. The software also indicated where garments would be too tight or not fitting properly.



Tmall wants to be part of the product development

According to Alibaba’s “New Manufacturing” strategy and Tmall, the 3D modelling solution will be made available to apparel brands in the near future. Once all the properties of a fabric are known – including colour, how the fabric reacts to different levels of compression, friction, and light – each garment would be virtually replicated in just five minutes to an hour. In other words: Tmall wants to give its fashion suppliers tools with which designers can directly create their virtual patterns on Tmall. “The tools will help retailers save time and money and reduce the cost of product development cycles by up to 80 percent, including patterning and prototyping, material sourcing and production,” the company said on the blog.

Currently this new service is still in the development phase. The insights gained through interactive technology could help brands to better engage consumers, get to know them better, better forecast market demand, and to build consumer-centric manufacturing.