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  February 4th, 2015 | Written by

Drone Deliveries? Your Wish Is Alibaba’s Command— In China

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As you may know, we here at Global Trade are about two things: healthy, boisterous international trade that empowers and enriches all nations/peoples, and flying cars. While we’ve been buoyed as the world steadily moves toward the former, we’ve been disappointed that the winged conveyance promised in our youth is still a relative no-show.

We say relative because it seems we may have to adjust our expectations regarding flying cars and be happy with what the Alibabas of the world appear ready to give us. On Wednesday, the Chinese e-commerce giant began limited—very limited—drone delivery service in three Chinese cities—Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai—that will allow 450 customers to receive same-day delivery of one package of ginger tea delivered to them via drone.

Alibaba, through its consumer marketplace Taobao, aspires to make deliveries within an hour of an order being placed. The deliveries, handled by courier company YTO Express, won’t be delivered directly to customers’ front door but will land outside residential buildings where they will be collected and delivered by human couriers.

“For consumers … such a cool consumption experience will give them more surprises,” read a statement on Taobao’s microblog which also featured a photo of a black-and-silver drone with four helicopter-like propellers carrying a white box.

The three-day test effectively allows Alibaba to leap frog American rival Amazon in the drone delivery race. It was in 2013 that Amazon Jeff Bezos grabbed a lot of headlines when stating that his company’s “Prime Air” program would be testing drones to offer same-day, 30-minute delivery to American customers.

But Amazon has struggled to go forward in large part due to myriad regulatory hurdles in the U.S., not the least of which are limits on drone airspace put in place by the Federal Aviation Authority. Recently, the FAA has seemed willing to begin to bend, ever so slightly, on its drone restrictions.

Then again, that bend may have been slowed last week when the challenges and issues that arise from the age of drones flew front and center when one—a Chinese-made drone—crashed on the White House lawn.