JD.com, one of the largest online retailers in China, announced that it plans to develop a drone capable of carrying one ton of cargo for deliveries to and from remote parts of the country.
The company will test its drone technology in the northwestern Chinese province of Shaanxi, where the online retailer has reached an agreement with the local government to test a low-altitude drone logistics network. Stretching over a 186-mile radius across Shaanxi, the drone logistics network will service hundreds of flight routes and air bases designed to optimize shipping online orders.
A spokesperson from JD told Recode that the company probably won’t have its one-ton capacity drone ready to fly for another two to three years. The early application for that drone will likely be to deliver food from agricultural centers in rural China into cities, rather than for last-mile delivery like the smaller drones already in use.
JD started its drone delivery program last year, sending parcels via unmanned aircraft to four provinces: Jiangsu, rural Beijing, Sichuan and Guangxi. As of January 2017, the online retailer reported having only about 20 fixed routes, but said that it plans to expand to 100 routes by the end of this year.
The Chinese e-commerce giant’s drone delivery scheme is markedly different from Amazon’s plan to use drones.
“We try to deliver with drones from cities to the countryside,” explained JD’s CEO Richard Liu in an interview with Recode late last year. “In every village, we have a delivery man who lives in the village, and he will take the parcels [delivered by drone] to different houses.”
Instead of the drone delivering directly to customers’ doorsteps, a local delivery person retrieves the cargo from the drone, which may carry between eight and 15 packages that were ordered by people in the village. The delivery person then brings the packages to people’s doors.
Amazon, on the other hand, has shown how it plans to use drones to deliver directly to people’s houses, as opposed to grouping local shipments like JD.
The Chinese online retailer says it plans to also open a research and development center with the Xi’an National Civil Aerospace Industrial Base to design and manufacture drones. The research center will include 30 acres of land to test its aircraft. The company has at least five different types of drones it currently flies for deliveries, which are used depending on the size of parcel.
For JD, drones have helped the online retailer expand into rural China without taking on massive delivery costs. Delivering by drone to rural areas can be at least 70 percent cheaper than by truck, according to JD’s CEO Richard Liu, and only takes a fraction of the time, since drones can soar over congested traffic and mountainous regions.
In the U.S., large-scale delivery by drone likely won’t happen until at least 2020, while the Federal Aviation Administration continues to craft rules and figure out a national low-altitude air traffic control system solution.
The slow U.S. regulatory timeline pushed Amazon to open its drone-testing facilities in the U.K., though that country also lacks national rules that would permit wide-scale drone delivery across the country. Amazon has so far received permission to fly in certain rural and suburban areas in the U.K.
Alibaba is the biggest e-commerce company in China, but JD is its fiercest rival, holding about 20 percent of online retail market share in China, while Alibaba claims about 44 percent, according to data collected by Bloomberg.
Here’s a video you can watch of JD’s drone delivery from last November:
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.