Courier reaches for the sky with drone

SF Express, one of China’s largest couriers, has confirmed it is testing drone technology to deliver parcels.

The test drone can fly to a height of 100 meters and has a navigational system that ensures it lands 2 meters from a pre-set destination, the company said in a news release.

Each machine is equipped with eight propellers and a hold where packages can be inserted, it said.

The maximum load was not specified.

“A drone can deliver parcels to areas with poor transport links,” said Chen Huan, spokeswoman for SF Express, which is based in Shenzhen.

The drone is not meant to replace manned services, as workers are needed in many areas of the drone delivery process, including designing routes, monitoring flights and picking up parcels at landing sites, the news release said.

Chen said the drone program is still in the “early stages”, with no timetable to popularize the service. She added that it is too early to talk about prices, as many details need to be decided.

Experts said express service providers may see drone delivery as an innovative business opportunity which can be lucrative if it is popularized after they have cleared obstacles, including compliance of regulations, safety and cost controls.

“In fact, there are no regulations for drones as authorized transportation tools, and delivery service providers may need to wait for authorities to approve such a business,” said Li Jun, a transport industry analyst for Nanjing Securities.

Delivery service providers must also take cost into consideration, she said, as developing a drone with a precise positioning system and safety controls may need greater investment than just using traditional vehicles.

Customers said they welcomed the proposed innovation and will try it out when it is introduced, although some said safety is a major concern.

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