JD.com and Rakuten partner to bolster drone delivery in Japan

JD.com and Rakuten have announced a partnership which hopes to solve the last-mile delivery challenge in Japan using unmanned delivery such as drones and robotics.

The deal will see JD.com’s drones and autonomous delivery robots used in Rakuten’s unmanned delivery solutions in Japan. The two companies plan to collaborate on Rakuten’s solutions such as dedicated shopping apps.

Rakuten launched its drone delivery service three years ago and has since been running trials with corporate partners and local governments. The first delivery trial was conducted in 2018 using both drones and autonomous robots.

The partnership with JD.com will bolster the programme using experience gained from the Chinese retailer’s commercial drone service which launched in 2016. JD.com currently uses small unmanned aircraft to deliver goods in rural China, racking up more than 400,000 minutes of flight time since launch. JD.com’s delivery robots are also becoming commonplace in urban locations.

“We are delighted to begin this collaboration with JD.com, which boasts the most cutting-edge proprietary delivery network in China as well as a track record and know-how in delivery with drones and UGVs,” said Koji Ando, group managing executive officer of Rakuten, Inc. “By utilising JD.com’s drones and UGVs with the unmanned delivery solutions created by Rakuten, we hope to accelerate innovation in the Japanese logistics sector and contribute to building a society that can offer greater convenience to all citizens.”

Due to the success of JD.com's drone programme, the retailer has been creating a strategy to commercialise the technology to third-party retailers. Only last month, JD.com revealed it had successfully used its drone technology during a government-approved test in Indonesia - the first flight outside China.

“We have been using drones and autonomous delivery robots for real deliveries in China for over two years,” added Jun Xiao, president of JD-X, JD’s logistics innovation lab. “This is one way we are innovating to make logistics more accessible, reliable and cost-effective. In Japan there are many opportunities for drones to make deliveries in mountainous areas, remote islands and in emergency situations. As we push the bounds of what our autonomous delivery technology can do, and explore its use in a wide range of applications from eCommerce to humanitarian support, we believe it will continue to bring significant benefit to people around the world.”