Skip to main content

Alibaba begins drone delivery trial to keep up with Amazon and Google

Alibaba begins drone delivery trial to keep up with Amazon and Google

Share this story

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Amazon, Google, and UPS are experimenting with delivering items by drone, but it's not just American companies that are trying to get items to their customers by unmanned aerial vehicle. China's Alibaba has begun a three-day drone delivery trial that sees the online retail giant using remote-controlled quadcopters to carry items to customers who live near distribution centers in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

The vehicles are emblazoned with Alibaba's Taobao brand, a site that works like a combination of eBay and Amazon, and offers a range of food, clothing, and electrical products. During the trial, the drones will only deliver orders of a specific type of ginger tea, a restriction that BBC News says keeps the maximum weight of the packages to 340g (12oz). The 450 shoppers involved in the trial will also need to live within a one-hour flight of Alibaba's distribution centers in order to receive their goods.

The drones will only deliver a specific type of tea during the trial

The company's drone trial is the latest in a list of challenges to Western tech and retail giants like Google and Amazon, as Alibaba continues its push to globalize. Alibaba CEO Jack Ma said his company aimed to have 2 billion customers by 2025, and it has adopted some of the methods used by Western tech giants in order to reach that goal. Last month, the company announced it was making a movie with established director Wong Kar-wai, following a similar path to Amazon by creating exclusive entertainment content it could push on its platforms.


An aspirational video published on Taobao's blog explains the company's drone delivery system, showing a woman making an order for the brand of ginger tea at home, before filling a kettle with water and placing it on the stove. By the time the water's boiled, Alibaba's drone has arrived, and her notable frown is turned upside down by the smell of the tea. The video shows a slick operation, but it's not clear whether Alibaba hopes to expand its drone delivery after the trial is over, or what kind of safety considerations it has made for flying around urban areas.

Should it plan to deliver more items by drone, it has hopefully cleared the flights with the relevant Chinese authorities, or it might end up with a frowny face of its own — BBC News reports that another drone delivery enterprise, set up by China's InCake bakery, was shut down by Shanghai authorities in 2013 for operating without a license.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 49 minutes ago The tablet didn’t call that play by itself

Emma Roth49 minutes ago
There’s a surprise in the sky tonight.

Jupiter will be about 367 million miles away from Earth this evening. While that may seem like a long way, it’s the closest it’s been to our home planet since 1963.

During this time, Jupiter will be visible to the naked eye (but binoculars can help). You can check where and when you can get a glimpse of the gas giant from this website.

Emma RothTwo hours ago
Missing classic Mario?

One fan, who goes by the name Metroid Mike 64 on Twitter, just built a full-on 2D Mario game inside Super Mario Maker 2 complete with 40 levels and eight worlds.

Looking at the gameplay shared on Twitter is enough to make me want to break out my SNES, or at least buy Super Mario Maker 2 so I can play this epic retro revamp.

Asian America learns how to hit back

The desperate, confused, righteous campaign to stop Asian hate

Esther Wang12:00 PM UTC
External Link
Russell BrandomTwo hours ago
The US might still force TikTok into a data security deal with Oracle.

The New York Times says the White House is still working on TikTok’s Trump-era data security deal, which has been in a weird limbo for nearly two years now. The terms are basically the same: Oracle plays babysitter but the app doesn’t get banned. Maybe it will happen now, though?

Richard Lawler6:54 PM UTC
Don’t miss this dive into Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion Pinocchio flick.

Andrew Webster and Charles Pulliam-Moore covered Netflix’s Tudum reveals (yes, it’s going to keep using that brand name) over the weekend as the streamer showed off things that haven’t been canceled yet.

Beyond The Way of the Househusband season two news and timing information about two The Witcher projects, you should make time for this incredible behind-the-scenes video showing the process of making Pinocchio.

External Link
Russell Brandom4:29 PM UTC
Edward Snowden has been granted Russian citizenship.

The NSA whistleblower has been living in Russia for the 9 years — first as a refugee, then on a series of temporary residency permits. He applied for Russian citizenship in November 2020, but has said he won’t renounce his status as a U.S. citizen.

External Link
Emma Roth4:13 PM UTC
Netflix’s gaming bet gets even bigger.

Even though fewer than one percent of Netflix subscribers have tried its mobile games, Netflix just opened up another studio in Finland after acquiring the Helsinki-based Next Games earlier this year.

The former vice president of Zynga Games, Marko Lastikka, will serve as the studio director. His track record includes working on SimCity BuildIt for EA and FarmVille 3.

External Link
Andrew J. Hawkins3:37 PM UTC
Vietnam’s EV aspirant is giving big Potemkin village vibes

Idle equipment, absent workers, deserted villages, an empty swimming pool. VinFast is Vietnam’s answer to Tesla, with the goal of making 1 million EVs in the next 5-6 years to sell to customers US, Canada and Europe. With these lofty goals, the company invited a bunch of social media influencers, as well as some auto journalists, on a “a four-day, multicity extravaganza” that seemed more weird than convincing, according to Bloomberg.

James Vincent3:17 PM UTC
Today, 39 years ago, the world didn’t end.

And it’s thanks to one man: Stanislav Petrov, a USSR military officer who, on September 26th, 1983, took the decision not to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack against the US. Petrov correctly guessed that satellite readings showing inbound nukes were faulty, and so likely saved the world from nuclear war. As journalist Tom Chivers put it on Twitter, “Happy Stanislav Petrov Day to those who celebrate!” Read more about Petrov’s life here.

Soviet Colonel who prevented 1983 nuclear response
Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images
The Verge
James Vincent3:03 PM UTC
Deepfakes were made for Disney.

You might have seen the news this weekend that the voice of James Earl Jones is being cloned using AI so his performance as Darth Vader in Star Wars can live on forever.

Reading the story, it struck me how perfect deepfakes are for Disney — a company that profits from original characters, fans' nostalgia, and an uncanny ability to twist copyright law to its liking. And now, with deepfakes, Disney’s most iconic performances will live on forever, ensuring the magic never dies.

External Link
Elizabeth Lopatto2:41 PM UTC
Hurricane Fiona ratcheted up tensions about crypto bros in Puerto Rico.

“An official emergency has been declared, which means in the tax program, your physical presence time is suspended,” a crypto investor posted on TikTok. “So I am headed out of the island.” Perhaps predictably, locals are furious.

The Verge
Richard Lawler2:09 PM UTC
Teen hacking suspect linked to GTA 6 leak and Uber security breach charged in London.

City of London police tweeted Saturday that the teenager arrested on suspicion of hacking has been charged with “two counts of breach of bail conditions and two counts of computer misuse.”

They haven’t confirmed any connection with the GTA 6 leak or Uber hack, but the details line up with those incidents, as well as a suspect arrested this spring for the Lapsus$ breaches.