“No doubt the COVID-19 virus situation will significantly change people’s mindset on robot delivery, including drone delivery.“
– Zhao Liang
Learn more on: www.antwork.link
Zhao Liang – Chief Operating Officer at Antwork
Today you are a CAAC (Civil Aviation Administration of China) certified drone operator. How did you start with drone delivery? What was your trigger?
Back in 2015, China had become a huge market for e-commerce and O2O (Online to Offline) business, and the demands were growing really fast. We saw more and more couriers and bike riders on the street to deliver for people. And consequently, more and more road congestion and traffic accidents. We knew that was not sustainable.
Therefore, we started the company in that year with a very simple idea, to provide people better delivery service in their daily lives. “Better” means safer, faster and more environment-friendly. And we knew drones could do that.
Which markets (medicine, retail, food, industrial materials, or other) and which types of deliveries (rural, suburban or urban) do you focus on and why?
We surely focus on drone delivery in urban areas. We agree that bringing medications to the most remote places in the world is very valuable, but our team has a different vision. We want the drone delivery services benefit everyone in every day. Therefore we worked very hard to raise our system’s reliability to a level that regulators like the CAAC could finally approve us to operate in very densely populated cites.
For urban delivery, accessibility is not a problem in general, because you already have fair traditional delivery coverage in the city. So in the beginning of the business, we choose applications which are more time sensitive like instant delivery and medical delivery, those types of deliveries people don’t want to wait for and could afford higher costs for faster services are our targets.
What are your biggest challenges right now? And, what are you doing to overcome them?
Since we have got the approval for business operation (it was the biggest challenge before), our next big challenge is how to bring the service to a scalable level, i.e. how to build a drone delivery service to allow everyone to be able to use anywhere inside a city. To accomplish that, we need to work with local communities and eco-system together closely and to find the right businesses and clients to be included.
Your records say that you operated more than 60,000 km already, what are you aiming for 2020?
As Antwork have started business operation since last year, simply increasing number of flights will no longer be our goal. More importantly, we aim to build an air delivery network capable of delivering 1,000 commercial orders per day, in the city of Hangzhou where our headquarters are located. At the same time, we would also want to build at least one operational use case in an overseas market, preferably for medical applications.
The COVID-19 virus caused lockdowns around the globe, forcing people to stay home. Will last-mile drone delivery have its first great wave in public acceptation due to this crisis? How have you been involved in the current efforts to curb the public health crisis?
No doubt the COVID-19 virus situation will significantly change people’s mindset on robot delivery, including drone delivery. A lot of people for the first time see those technologies are actually working in their surroundings and people can directly feel the help that drones could bring. This will surely speed up the massive application of drone delivery in the future.
In our case, we had been discussing with doctors and CDC officials about how to apply our technology in fighting the virus, since the beginning of the outbreak (end of January). And very quickly we had a request from hospitals and deployed our system in a short notice, in the People’s Hospital of Xinchang County in Zhejiang province (the second most impacted region at that time). During the past month, our drone delivery system in Xinchang County has helped local hospitals with more than 300 flights delivering medical samples and medicines related to the COVID-19 virus. Now we see unfortunately the virus has spread across the world, and we’re willing to bring our technologies and experiences to other countries which are currently suffering from the virus.
What has been the key to your success as a drone delivery pioneer in China?
As a start-up we have been really focused on just one thing – drone delivery. This has made us move really fast comparing to other giant companies in the same field.
On the other hand, we have been taking safety as our top priority since the beginning of our delivery operations. Therefore we got the opportunity to be one of the first companies to work with drone regulators in China closely and later successfully got the first urban drone delivery approval, which gave us a great first-mover advantage in this market.