Richard Unten

E-commerce giant Alibaba is delivering tea by drone in China

It's a three-day pilot program for delivering tea.


Dylan Love


Published Feb 4, 2015   Updated May 29, 2021, 3:12 pm CDT

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has beaten Amazon to the punch on delivering orders to customers by way of flying robot.

From Feb. 4 to Feb. 6, the company will run a pilot program with logistics company Shanghai YTO Express that will see customer orders delivered to their doorsteps within an hour.

There’s a catch, however: Because concerns over weight are paramount, the only item available for drone delivery is a specific type of ginger tea that’s used to treat menstrual cramps. These drones can only carry up to 340 grams, or three-fourths of a pound, so tea is an easy, lightweight item that people will actually order.

This is a limited-run experiment for now. 450 people will get the chance to see their tea arrive through the air over the next three days as Alibaba figures out how to make delivery by drone a more permanent and versatile offering. These customers need to live within a certain radius of Alibaba’s distribution hubs in Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai.

Amazon had announced last year that it was hard at work on facilitating delivery-by-drone in the United States, but our lawmakers have some catching up to do before this becomes a practical reality.

Image via Richard Unten/CC 2.0

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*First Published: Feb 4, 2015, 11:21 am CST