China’s biggest internet retailer says it has begun testing drone-based deliveries to hundreds of customers.
It says the trial will last three days and be limited to areas within a one-hour flight of its distribution centres in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
The company’s blog adds that it believes the technology has the potential to speed up deliveries.
Amazon, Google and parcel service UPS are among other companies carrying out more private trials of such aircraft.
Alibaba is using its drones to deliver orders for a specific type of ginger tea, helping limit the maximum weight of the packages to 340g (12oz).
The Tech in Asia blog, which was one of the first to report the development, said the experiment was being undertaken by Alibaba’s Taobao division – an eBay-like marketplace that connects third-party sellers and buyers – and would involve 450 shoppers.
“Even though it’s very limited in scope, Taobao is delivering real goods to real people, which is a step further than its Western counterpart Amazon has gone,” Tech in Asia’s Paul Bischoff told the BBC.
“That said, which company will actually roll out a fully functioning drone-based delivery service remains to be seen and [such a deployment] is still a long way off.”
In 2013, a much smaller Chinese company – the InCake bakery – began delivering cakes to customers in Shanghai using remote-controlled drones. However, the trade was quickly halted by a local aviation watchdog, for operating without a licence.