China’s tests drone delivery in Indonesia in first overseas pilot

We hear a lot about drones having the potential to revolutionize delivery and logistics. It’s easy to be dismissive — in many cases, a robot may take what would be a human’s job — but there are some examples where drone technology could genuinely be transformative.

One such case is Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country that houses a population of more than 260 million people across some 17,000 islands. The country, which is the world’s largest archipelago, is the location for e-commerce giant’s first drone trial outside of its native China.

JD, which is Alibaba’s biggest rival, has been piloting drones for the past couple of years in China. It recently gained a regional-level operating license, and its other human-less tech includes self-operating trucks, automated warehouses and unmanned stores. The company is a big believer in Indonesia, having launched its local JD.ID service back in 2015 and since backed local ride-hailing giant Go-Jek; now it is sampling its advanced tech in the country.

JD said today that it completed its first “government approved” drone delivery in the country earlier this month, on January 8.

Rather than ferrying customer orders, the company used the tech to transport books and backpacks over 250km to students at a school in a village near Bandung, the country’s fourth-largest city. This drone-based shipment was a trial that was part of a large donation that was delivered by conventional methods. But still, JD sees the potential to build on this pilot and develop a drone-based delivery system that can help service out-of-reach areas and generally expedite its dispatches.

JD.ID claims more than 20 million registered users in Indonesia and a catalog of more than one million products, although it didn’t disclose revenue, active user or merchant figures. The company said its goal is to deliver 85 percent of orders to customers on the same or next day as their order.

But, to give an idea of the challenge, its logistics effort is spread across 10 warehouses that span seven islands, which cover 483 cities and 6,500 counties. Clearly, nimble airborne solutions could have a huge impact if JD can make it reliable and gain the necessary government approvals.

“We have been using drones for real deliveries in China for over two years now, and have seen the profound impact that the technology can have on people’s lives around the country,” Jon Liao, chief strategy officer at, said in a statement.

JD launched unmanned convenience stores, a hallmark of its Chinese business, in Indonesia last year, marking its first overseas effort with the technology. The same is also true of this drone deployment.