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With the ecommerce marketplace by continually getting ever more competitive, the world’s largest retailers are always looking for ways to differentiate their offerings and get goods to their customers quicker. Drone delivery is increasingly being seen as the future of online retail delivery which is why it is not surprising that two of the world’s largest retailers, JD.com and Amazon are both developing their capabilities in this area.

This week has seen Amazon be granted a patent for a shipping label that includes a built-in parachute. According to the patent application, this is to “enable the delivery of packages by [unpiloted] aerial vehicles (UAVs) or other aerial vehicles.” The patent was first applied for in August 2015 and was granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) this week.

Companies like Amazon file many, many patents, with the vast majority of them never going on to be developed. This may be one like that but what it does do is provide insight into Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery project. Amazon has been trialling its drone delivery for the past 8 months in the UK, although parachutes do not feature in the project as it stands. Other companies have began developing such technology however including a California based startup called Zipline which has been using drones and parachute delivery methods to deliver vital blood and medical supplies to remote areas of the African country of Rwanda.

One of Amazon’s biggest rivals, JD.com, the Chinese based internet retailer has also been developing their own drone delivery capabilities. As part of their latest project, the company this week revealed that it will be developing drones that are capable of carrying a ton or more for long distance deliveries. These new drones will be developed in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi and will carry both consumer goods to the more remote areas of the province and farm produce to cities. The trial will cover approximately a 200 mile radius and will operate from numerous drone bases throughout the province.

This project is just part of a wider plan to widen its drone delivery capabilities. Speaking about the project, the chief executive of JD’s logistics business group, Wang Zhenhui, said in a statement: “We envision a network that will be able to efficiently transport goods between cities, and even between provinces, in the future.”

However, both Amazon and JD.com both face hurdles in rolling out drone deliveries further. In the USA, Amazon are up against the fact that regulators only allow commercial drone flights on an experimental basis and in China, JD.com faces government airspace restrictions. Globally, there are issues of avoiding collisions with birds and other obstacles.

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