While its competition is still just talking about it, online retailer Alibaba is using remotely-controlled drones to deliver packages by air to its customers.
Alibaba offered air deliveries by drone within an hour to customers in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou from February 4 to 6. The catch? You had to order a certain brand of tea. There was one other restriction too: each city was restricted to just 50 deliveries a day.
The airspace in China is tightly controlled and mostly reserved for military use. Last year, civilian air travel in the east of China was restricted as airports were shut down to allow military air drills.
Having found its “open sesame” to China’s locked skies, Alibaba beat out international competitor Amazon, which was planning to make similar deliveries using unmanned drones until US authorities stepped in.
Although the notoriety of Alibaba is still soaring from its IPO on the New York Stock Exchange, the drone delivery campaign comes at an awkward time. Last week, government regulators criticized Alibaba for “illegal” acts, such as allowing counterfeit goods to be sold on its site, something to which CEO Jack Ma angrily denounced in a rare display of defiance against authority.