A Chinese delivery company is experimenting with a new style of service, and has begun developing air drones that may one day be able to bring packages across long distances and reach remote areas.
SF Express, a leading courier company based in Shenzhen, has begun testing trial runs with drones in Guangdong province’s Dongguan city, Chinese technology news portal MyDrivers.com reported . Each drone is outfitted with eight propellers, comes complete with a space where packages can be inserted and can reach a flight altitude of about 100 metres.
According to spokespersons from SF Express who shared details with Chinese media, the drones were developed as a potential solution for delivery to remote areas. These “hi-tech” shipping machines are independently developed by the company and all come with built-in navigation systems that only require input of address and flight path. Staff controlling the drones will be able to monitor the drone’s movements and correct each machine’s position within two metres.
While SF Express’ drone project is still in early stages of development without an announced date of completion, the concept of automated machines delivering packages was enough to entice curiosity from several Chinese online readers. Most commentators who read the story on MyDrivers.com commented that the idea was “creative and had potential,” but the drones currently being tested were “too small” and seemed “only capable of delivering one package at a time."
Using drones beyond their usual military purposes for more civilian work, like package delivery, is not a new concept. Since 2011, a group of students on the mainland’s Harbin Engineering University have been developing a start-up company they call “Linkall ,” which also uses drones for delivery in “a totally autocratic and continuous working system…[designed] not only for urban residents [but] to all people who need it…especially those in remote areas.” Linkall drone test runs  in early 2013 showed that the drones were capable of delivering pizza successfully, and development and refinement of the machines is continuing.
Furthermore, in January 2013, American military author and entrepreneur John Robb wrote a series of posts  detailing a project he called “Dronenet” on his blog, and the idea gained traction after technology blogs like Techcrunch reported  his ideas. Although Dronenet has yet to come to fruition, Robb’s vision for a widespread distribution network that uses drones for transportation is remarkably similar to SF Express’ current plans.