In building drones that kill people, the U.S. has a couple-decade head start on China. But when it comes to domestic uses, U.S. businesses are hamstrung because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) isn't required to issue commercial drone rules until 2015. In the meantime, one of China's biggest delivery companies is tinkering with using drones--with Chinese government permission.
SF Express is testing a drone it has built for delivering packages to remote areas, according to Chinese media reports. The drone can hit an maximum altitude of 328 feet and deliver parcels within two meters of its target. It's not clear what sort of weight these puppies can handle, but Beijing journalists calculated that it probably can't carry more than 6.6 pounds.
The news broke yesterday morning, after a Sina Weibo user noticed what looked like a UFO hovering above a street in Dongguang, in southern China, and after noticing a SF Express logo, posted images online.
In July, a Shanghai bakery launched aerial cake delivery--or "pie in the sky," as the Telegraph put it (video below). However, as an anonymous government official told the Shanghai Daily at the time, businesses that want to use drones must be granted approval from the local civil aviation authorities first. The bakers forgot to do that, apparently.
However, the Dongguan police said that, except during certain sensitive times, commercial operators who receive permission from the civil aviation regulator and air traffic control are allowed to fly drones. SF Express says it's strictly complying with the policies.