February 6

The coronavirus may turn out to boost deliveries by drone. The spreading virus and fears of contagion have made it more difficult and costly for companies such as Alibaba to deliver their products to customers. Making such deliveries by drone and thus reducing human contact might offer a solution.

Since the Lunar New Year holiday in late January, millions of people in China have been stuck in their homes. The spreading of the coronavirus has led to people being quarantined, travel restrictions, and even citywide shutdowns. Many businesses, including companies such as DJI, have closed their offices, and stores such as Apple, Starbucks, and others have been closed, reports Reuters. As a result, postal deliveries have gone up substantially compared to last year’s festival period, according to analysts from Bernstein.

However, delivering products to customers still carries a risk of contagion, and to ease the fears of customers, companies such as Alibaba and Meituan Dianping now offer “contactless delivery,” where couriers leave the packages at designated pickup locations. At the same time, fewer people are willing to make these deliveries out of fear of the coronavirus spreading, and as a result, labor costs are likely to increase.

One solution that comes to mind (no surprise here) is to start using drones to make contactless deliveries. Around the world, a number of courier, retail, and e-commerce companies have been experimenting and testing with drones to deliver products to their customers. This includes Amazon, Wing Aviation, UPS, and ZipLine, to just name a few. Technical hurdles, but even more so, regulatory challenges have prevented deliveries by drone from taking off in a meaningful way in many countries. However, a crisis situation, such as the one that is currently ongoing in China, may speed up government approvals and investment from companies to make deliveries by drone a reality.

We have seen similar situations in the past, according to Reuters. For example, online shopping in China took off after the SARS outbreak in 2003. Many brick-and-mortar shops were forced to close and pivot to online sales, said JD founder Richard Liu. And similarly, in Japan, the most popular online chat app Line was inspired after the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011.

The current crisis in China may set off deliveries by drone. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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Photo: A drone used to spray disinfectants in Zhengwan, China/China Out TPX Images of the Day

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