back to article Chinese e-tailer beats Amazon to the skies with one-ton delivery drones

JD.com, China's largest online retailer, has announced it is beginning trials of a new delivery drone capable of carrying a ton of cargo to rural Chinese customers. Just like Amazon, JD.com (also known as "Jingdong") has a vast network of warehouses and delivery networks crisscrossing the Middle Kingdom and, like Amazon, it …

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sounds familiar

I don't think the problem in the west is as much "federal dithering" as it is the strong grip that the traditional aviation authorities holds over everything even vaguely related. Reminds me of the grip that movie rights unions have on society.

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Boffin

Re: sounds familiar

Look you can complain about the speed which the aviation authorities move at, but please think about how safe flying is now compared to the early days of aviation. The regulations are designed to make sure that planes are super safe and do not fall out of the sky. Are you really upset that they want to make sure drones are equally safe? Especially when they are about to start carrying 1 tonne of cargo? There may not be passengers on a drone to think about, but there are people on the ground, and a one tonne drone falling out of the sky WILL ruin someone's day.

Just something for everyone to think about - if cars were designed to the same strict guidelines as aircraft, you would get a new model of car (e.g. a new VW Golf) every 7 years. Not yearly relases as you get now. Every 7 years. Is this justified? Consider how often you think about flight safety before booking your flight - if the answer is "bugger all", then I'd say it's done its Job perfectly. Also, how often do you think about a plane falling on your head - I know the answer to that one IS "bugger all".

Do we want 7 years between Drone versions? Probably not. But do we want to be able to walk around and never have to think about a drone falling on our heads - the answer is yes, and if that requires a bit more conservatism and a few more regulations on Drone manufacturers, then I for one welcome them...

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Re: sounds familiar @Iglethal

Your argument was going so well....and then this:

"if cars were designed to the same strict guidelines as aircraft, you would get a new model of car (e.g. a new VW Golf) every 7 years. Not yearly relases as you get now."

Cars ARE designed on that c7 year timescale. It takes about five years and costs about $/$/€ 1 billion or more to design and get approval for a new mass market car across major markets, and the costs are several times that amount if the car maker is developing a complete new car, sharing the platform and key components across different models and brands. Despite marketing lies to the contrary, most of the yearly "model refresh" is not in anyway a new model, it is simply low cost changes like new light clusters, modified grilles and styling trim, sometimes out-of-cycle new engines or gearboxes, a few modified panels, a change of interior trim, options or model names. Budget for these model year changes can vary hugely, but we're talking typically of the order of $100m, of which I'd guess 30% is engineering and design, 40% vendor tooling, and 30% marketing programme, campaigns, and collateral. But you could do a model year refresh purely on paint colours, trim mixes, and then all you'd need is a few million to market this "new, 2017 model".

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Re: sounds familiar

The fact that a problem is an actual problem and requires some actual consideration is not an excuse for flat-out failing / refusing to deliver some sort of workable regulation indefinitely. When one answers "we'd like to try something new" essentially with "well we don't, so you won't get to, either" one should not be surprised to end up regarded as the enemy.

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Happy

Re: sounds familiar @Iglethal

Hi Ledswinger, just for the record I wasnt trying to belittle the car industry, and the costs involved there. It was more of an analogy. I still do stand by it though - the time scale for an all new A/C is usually around 10-15 years (the A350 was relatively fast in coming out in only 11 years), to do the equivalent of the new trim, yearly models you mention above is still a good 3-5 years (take a look at the A320 NEO as an example).

But anyway, I was just trying to point out the level of regulation and documentation that goes into getting a plane in the air and into service.

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Black Helicopters

THUD

I honestly don't mind some bureaucracy and regulations getting in the way of drones weighing over a ton.

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Re: THUD

Should be OK so long as they are not delivering pianos or anvils.

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Re: THUD

So what weighs more, a ton of Chinese tat or a one ton piano? To my way of thinking, either one could flatten your lunch.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: THUD

but what if it's one ton of Chinese fluffy toys?

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LDS
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"they are not delivering pianos or anvils."

Wiley E. Coyote would sue for customer discrimination.

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Re: THUD

"So what weighs more, a ton of Chinese tat or a one ton piano?"

The thing is, the dynamics of pianos and anvils are governed by Cartoon Rules (ie. plummet into a crater as soon as anyone looks at them), while that of mundane objects are not, so the question is moot.

More seriously though - have y'all ever looked at a map...? Did you notice how, invariably, human settlements are essentially dwarfed by various pieces of land around them? When you're in the business of spanning 300-mile distances (as opposed to door-to-door delivery within a city) it would be trivial to restrict your drone to fly over uninhabited land 99.99% of the time, with strict instructions to do its best to crash to either the left or right of any points where crossing something like a road is unavoidable: drones - especially large ones - with a minimal redundancy don't just insta-plummet like a stone...

As long as your warehouses are at the periphery of settlements, you'd never have to fly over anybody. Granted, I'd prefer the specific routes / lanes regulated appropriately instead of leaving it to every operator's best judgement - but I don't see why it would be particularly hard. Yes, an occasional one-ton anvil cratered in the middle of your field is inconvenient but it's definitely not as bad as one in your living room...

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Re: "they are not delivering pianos or anvils."

Well... there's physics and then there is Wiley E. Coyote Physics.... If you spot a drone, just make sure that Wiley isn't in close proximity.

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Anonymous Coward

What do you call a one-ton drone that loses power?

A bomb.

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Re: What do you call a one-ton drone that loses power?

And the fuel will cost a bomb too. Rotor-supported aircraft are the least energy efficient of all, by a wide margin. Where is China going to get that much new energy if they scale up this idea to cover a large fraction of the country?

Also, these things are bound to be pretty noisy, which could radically change the ambiance of China as a place to live.

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Anonymous Coward

One-ton

Or won-ton?

Imagine delivering a one-ton won-ton!

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Coat

Re: One-ton

One wonders what noise it would make upon impact

.......<WANG>

Yes, yes; I'm going, no need to push

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Re: One-ton

No,

it goes....

"Ming!"

(apologies to Spike Milligan)

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Amazon goes to China!

Is there some reason that Amazon can't develop its drones in China, as well? Or some country other than the U.S.? Just because stupid bureaucracy is stopping progress in this country doesn't mean that a huge tech company can't move development someplace else. What are the air regulations like south of the border? Or how about various EU countries?

Really, though, all one would have to do is beef up an open source drone, and then go for it. It's gonna be all right, with these wandering all over carrying a 2,000lb load, right?

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Re: Amazon goes to China!

In this context, could we please talk about a definition of "progress" first?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Amazon goes to China!

Indeed, nothing is technically stopping Amazon from developing its drone tech in China. Somehow, I don't think that Bezos is thrilled with the idea of having to share that tech with the Chinese government (out of its burgeoning public safety concerns, of course, having absolutely nothing to do with China's insatiable appetite for intellectual property).

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Better make them REALLY secure

Otherwise it would make for a pretty good terrorist attack to take control of all of them simultaneously, and cut power to the props over a gathering of people, or random suburban homes for that matter.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Better make them REALLY secure

I don't think that terrorists twisted little brains work like that. No matter how many people such a plan might affect, I can't see your average terror cell sitting around muttering through their beards about how the Koran demands that all the unbelievers should be prevented from having a cup of tea and forced to miss East Enders.

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Re: Better make them REALLY secure

Not every "terrorist" in the world is a believer of the Koran..

"real" official heavy weight drones would need bloody good security to ever be allowed to be used in the E.I/UK..

But as knowledge and parts become more easily available,then the idea of a home built diy,heavy lift drone becomes achievable,my immediate thought was what an easy way to deliver a ton of nitram to the palace of Westminster,truck Into close to target,fly out through top of box body van,quick very low level flight,bang..

Very difficult to stop,easily hardenable against microwave etc and could just lead to early bang in crowded public place,very hard target for auto guns etc,collateral damage risk v high.

Very short flight time,sub 30 seconds,little reaction time,many targets roofs upper floors are not hardened.stopping 6 simultaneously,basically impossible in built up area.

It's almost the perfect weapon delivery system,cheap(ish) low knowledge base needed,short range means you could use fly by wire,so no chance of electronic barrier,and one tin doing 40mph goes a long way from 100feet up.etc etc etc.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Better make them REALLY secure

Not every "terrorist" in the world is a believer of the Koran..

Just most of them, as far as I can see.

Do a count of bodies, or of organisations with a current "market share" in terrorism, and people with beards feature very, very prominently. It's pretty obvious.

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Re: Better make them REALLY secure

Er, if a one ton drone was dropped on your house I think it would cause you a lot more harm than preventing you from having a cup of tea and watching East Enders. It would cause you to have to move out of your house for weeks/months for repairs at minimum, end your life at worst.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Better make them REALLY secure

Er, if a one ton drone was dropped on your house

You miss the point of this thread, sunshine.

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Re: Better make them REALLY secure

Terrorists like things that cause... well.. terror. Big bangs, smoke, panic, flying body parts. Instead of big bangs, maybe the sound of automatic weapons fire. The total number of bodies isn't important.. the effect (terror) is. So.. maybe one bomber drone....

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Anonymous Coward

My suggestions to Bezos

A) The Washington Post starts to praise whatever Trump and his chums do.

B) Amazon starts to promote Trump's family products

C) Amazon HQ is moved to some Trump's family property

What will happen:

1) Ajit Pai is moved to the FAA

2) Bezos drones will be cleared to fly whenever they like, with any payload, including weapons.

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Anonymous Coward

Don't worry

just tried to order an ACME ANVIL from jd.com - sadly they're out of stock ..... beep beep

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Re: Don't worry

What about the rest of the catalog?

http://www.acme.com/catalog/acme.html

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Black Helicopters

A hijack target?

Hmm, they're going to need defensive weaponry and Electronic Counter Measures, because someone's going to try and either hijack one, or just plain shoot it it.

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Re: A hijack target?

Possibly, the Chinese have a different attitude as to the risks and benefits, so accept the inevitability of drones falling out of the sky that may well injure people instead of not doing anything because the risk can’t be mitigated against

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Re: A hijack target?

Possibly, the Chinese have a different attitude as to the risks and benefits

Of course they do, because they're not a democratic country. If the party says "yes", then there's no questioning that. That does mean that China (and many dictatorships) are far better at *some* aspects of planning and strategy, because they can approach the questions in a purely logical manner. In this case, the use is put of rural distribution, and the chances of a random drone crash landing on somebody or something in rural China is apparently an acceptable risk. In the US (and to an extent Europe), there would be somebody successfully arguing that would not be an acceptable risk, using worst case arguments of a coach full of pensioners, a regional gas transport hub, a high speed rail line, or a wildlife sanctuary for endangered toads.

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@Ledswinger -- Re: A hijack target?

Need to add in lawyers, lawsuits, etc. into that equation. Around these parts, lawyers file a suit for just about any reason.

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Anonymous Coward

Efficient....?

"We envision a network that will be able to efficiently transport goods between cities, and even between provinces, in the future"

Dude, watch what your R&D staff are doing... you're talking about blimps, they're building quad (er - "tri") copters...

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Coat

I think Noel Coward had the answer ...

"very big, China"

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Anonymous Coward

One a more serious note ... 300 miles ?

That's half the length of the UK (even less if you ignore Scotland).

Now one-tonne isn't much if you're talking washing powder. But it's an awful lot of high-value/low-mass things (which obviously will increase the temptation for n'er do wells).

I wonder if driverless lorry strategies have accounted for this yet ?

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Ne'er-do-wells

They will snaffle a shedload of purloined credit card details, order a couple of tonnes worth of stuff and have it delivered at a victim's place.

Imagine twenty or so tonnes all coming down in your front yard...

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must ...resist ...urge ...to ...post ...myself ....

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Happy

do..you...

...need..a..stamp...?

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But as well as the almost perfect cheap weapon delivery system for terrorists,these heavy lift drones could be brilliant life savers,perfect for inshore water rescue system for the UK,much faster than most boats,not effected by swells,waves sub gal 7 winds,cheaper than choppers,life vest with avalanche type position bleeper,it's found you in minutes,drops lift harnes's and or liferafts etc.

Mountain rescue as well,just like smaller drones,the more you think the more uses you can imagine,big ones just have more capabilities for lift/carry/speed/range etc etc...

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Unhappy

A drone that size is just about right for the UK MoD's drone delivery programme.

Of course its country of origin may pose a few issues...

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