Major Japanese and Chinese e-commerce companies Rakuten Inc. and JD.com Inc. said Thursday they will tie up and commercialize an unmanned delivery service in Japan to save the time, cost and labor involved in parcel shipments in the wake of the explosive growth of online shopping.
Rakuten will employ JD.com’s drones and unmanned ground vehicles, which the Chinese firm already operates in commercial services in its home country, as it prepares to introduce autonomous delivery in Japan.
The Tokyo-based firm has been conducting experiments and trial services of autonomous parcel delivery since 2016, seeing it as an effective solution to the “last mile” issue of cutting the time and cost of shipping packages from transportation hubs to consumers’ doors.
JD.com, also known as Jingdong, launched the world’s first commercial drone delivery in 2016 in China and is aiming to expand its service abroad.
JD.com Vice President Xiao Jun said there are “many opportunities” in Japan for drone deliveries in mountainous areas and remote islands.
“The unmanned drones and vehicles are just the first step in the Japanese market and we would like to cooperate with other leading Japanese companies in product development and application,” he said at a news conference in Tokyo.
The JD.com drone to be introduced by Rakuten is 160 centimeters wide and 60 cm high, weighs 5 kilograms and is capable of traveling 16 kilometers. The unmanned ground vehicle, 171 cm in length, 75 cm in width and 160 cm in height, has a top speed of 15 km per hour.
Rakuten said last month it plans experimental drone deliveries of merchandise purchased by its customers during the business year starting April.
The government relaxed rules on unmanned deliveries by drones in September last year, allowing flights beyond the line of sight of an operator.
Japan Post Co. began testing drone deliveries between its two postal offices in Fukushima Prefecture in November.