Chances are, the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word "drone" is the word "strike," or perhaps something to do with surveillance. It's less likely that what springs to mind is "expedited parcel delivery."
According to Quartz, however, a leading Chinese courier company is testing out a new program to deliver packages to remote areas using small-scale drones. The pilot program came to light earlier this week when a user of Sina Weibo (a Twitter-like micro-blogging service) noticed a tiny aircraft hovering about in Dongguan, an industrial city in Southern China.
It turns out the courier firm, SF Express, is hoping to use the eight-propeller drones to make deliveries to remote areas which are difficult to service with traditional vehicles. The aircraft can fly to about 100 metres above the ground, can carry a load of three kilograms and can be targeted with an accuracy of about two metres.
The SF Express program is actually not the first such attempt in China: in July, a Shanghai bakery launched an airborne cake delivery service, although its aircraft were remote controlled, making them closer to a model airplane than a true drone, which navigates itself.
In Canada, the use of commercial drones is strictly regulated by Transport Canada, which requires prospective operators to apply for what's known as a Special Flight Operation Certificate. Still, a number of Canadian companies are dipping their toes into commercial drone use, like Accuas Inc., which uses 10 unmanned aircraft for aerial land surveys. In the U.S., on the other hand, all commercial uses are currently forbidden, pending an FAA ruling on the subject in 2015.