Alibaba testing its own drone delivery service … that only delivers tea

4 Feb 2015

There could soon be delivery drones buzzing over homes as Chinese online marketplace Alibaba begins testing its own drones to compete with e-commerce titan Amazon’s devices.

The difference being however, according to Tech In Asia, is that 450 customers will actually get the chance to have their orders delivered to them by the flying delivery service.

That is, on one condition. That being that the only thing someone can order is a brand of ginger tea that is used for the treatment of menstrual cramps… as you do.

There are further limitations as well as the person’s tea delivery must weight no-more than 340g and they must live in one-of-three of China’s largest cities: Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

The deal has been brokered as part of a joint project between Alibaba, Shanghai YTO Express delivery company and the tea manufacturer, Taobao, with the first 50 packages expected to be distributed later today.

However, given that this is the first time it has been undertaken in China, the person who makes the order will not be taking the order from the drone itself, but will receive it from a delivery person who is sent to intercept the drone, collect the order and then deliver it in person.

The rate at which Alibaba have been able to get their drones ‘off the ground’ will no-doubt raise the eyebrows of Amazon who have, for over two years now, been trying to get their own drone service up-and-running in the US, but have been hindered by strict regulations from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) on flying commercial drones.


The Alibaba drone in action. Image via Taobao/Weibo

Delivery drone illustration via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic