Drones in China deliver packages, even a birthday cake

Parcel service SF Express was spotted the other day doing drop-off via aerial drone in the Chinese city of Dongguang, setting up a possible new standard in package delivery.

A Chinese SF Express drone spotted in Dongguang by a Weibo user who posted the pictures on the social-networking site. Weibo

In China, robots can cook and serve food while serenading customers, are being built into a "million robot army" to revolutionize manufacturing, and are a cornerstone of youth education. So it would make sense that in the Chinese city of Dongguang aerial drones are now delivering packages.

Spotted in the city -- located in the southern province of Guangdong with a population of roughly 8 million -- by a Weibo user who posted the photos on the Chinese social network, the drones are eight-rotor helicopters, or octocoptors, operated by the delivery service SF Express, whose logo was conveniently plastered on the side of the drone. The company admitted to running trials of the service after media reports picked up on the photos.

Because it is only in the testing phase, SF Express drones are not in widespread deployment, yet. However, it's estimated by Chinese media reports that the octocoptor can fly roughly 328 feet in the air, deliver packages within two meters of customers, and withstand a load of approximately 6.5 pounds.

Weibo

The best part: China considers "UAV express" totally legal, unlike in the US where commercial drone use is tied up by the Federal Aviation Administration until new regulations are issued in 2015. Businesses simply get authorization from local civil aviation authorities who must approve the type of drone being used.

That's exactly the snag hit by a local bakery in July that began delivering cakes via drone. InCake bakery, located in Shanghai, thought it could get away with drone delivery under the noses of authorities.

And in fact, the company did manage to document one such confection conveyance that majestically crossed the Huangpu river with a high-end $300 cake, seen in the video below. But Shanghai police brought the hammer down when it became apparent that local passersby were worried that the drone might buckle under the weight of the cake and potentially injure someone.

While we in the US settle with our gimmicky IKEA furniture bots and dry-cleaning drones, we can only dream of the day when Amazon will have a "deliver by drone" option right there on the shipping page. It seems 2015 can't come quick enough.

About the author

Nick Statt is a staff writer for CNET. He previously wrote for ReadWrite and was a news associate at the social magazine app Flipboard. He spends a questionable amount of his free time contemplating his relationship with video games while continuously exploring the convergence of tech, science and pop culture.

 

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