LATE on a Monday morning the village of Zhangwei is quiet. Chickens scratch and cluck at the side of the road. Workers use wooden spades to spread grain on the highway to dry, using half its width so that traffic can still pass on the other side. Yet at the community centre at the village’s heart, two objects hint at a feat of ultra-modern logistics about to unfold: a circle of green astroturf laid down in the central courtyard, and a billboard on the front of the building bearing the logo of JD.com, China’s second-largest online retailer.
A low whirr breaks the stillness as a spiky dot appears on the horizon. The drone arrives overhead with a roar, hovers for a moment, then lowers itself towards the green circle like a mantis, three sets of propellers churning the air into whorls of straw and dust. Slung beneath it is a red cardboard box branded with JD’s cheery dog mascot. Just a few feet above the ground, the drone drops the box then zips back…Continue reading