Drone maker XAG unveiled a new cargo delivery drone in a test flight on Monday at its headquarters in Guangzhou, a project developed in collaboration with Airbus, the world’s second-largest aviation manufacturer.
Why it matters: The “Project Vesper” initiative brings a global aerospace heavyweight into the already-crowded race for automating China’s delivery services.
- The project marks a shift for XAG, which had targeted agriculture applications for its unmanned aerial vehicles and internet of things (IoT) solutions.
Details: The drone flew 1.6 kilometers (around 1 mile) in 3 minutes, from a nearby restaurant to a terrace on the top floor of XAG’s headquarters, three stories up. It delivered noodles and rice in a box similar to those widely used by food delivery drivers as the crowd gathered for the event cheered.
- The drone can lift up to 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of payload and travel at 12 meters per second.
- XAG has been granted a license from the Guangzhou government to run a trial in the area near its headquarters. Customers can use a special WeChat mini-program to order food from a noodle shop.
- The drone requires a carrier box to execute deliveries.
- The drone is only part of XAG’s vision for the future of deliveries, Gong said during the event. The company hopes to build infrastructure for food and cargo delivery drones in the world’s urban centers, much like Airbus’s air traffic control infrastructure, so that drones can be a “public transit facility” that runs on a schedule.
- The companies began discussions on collaboration in September 2018, and the agreement was signed in July at the World Economic Forum in the northeastern city of Dalian, China.
Context: Other companies have run similar trials in the past both in China and the US. In China, most major players developing such technologies are software and logistics companies, with millions of delivery orders at hand, and lack expertise in aeronautics and hardware.
- JD won the first license granted in China to pilot drone deliveries in February 2018. Alibaba’s Ele.me tested drones for food delivery in May 2018 in Hangzhou. Hangzhou-based startup Antwork, which in July demonstrated KFC deliveries using drones, is valued at $300 million.
- In the US, Amazon has been developing drones for six years and Alphabet subsidiary Wing is testing drug prescription deliveries with Walgreens and package delivery with FedEx.