Walmart takes next step toward aerial home deliveries
US RETAIL giant Walmart is expanding efforts to offer aerial home delivery, joining with startup DroneUp, a Virginia Beach company, to begin dropping off items ranging from cans of tuna to children’s thermometers, reports Bloomberg.
The flights are limited for the moment to one nautical mile from a base outside a Walmart store in Farmington, Arkansas. But the service will be offered in the coming months at additional Arkansas locations in Rogers and Bentonville, where Walmart has its headquarters.
The goal is to eventually provide service over longer distances.
“I think it’s a very significant leap both for our industry and for the retail industry,” said DroneUp CEO Tom Walker.
While routine, widespread product deliveries conducted by robotic drones are still years away, the Walmart announcement shows how serious the retail industry is about the potential for this new form of deliveries amid the rise of online shopping.
Alphabet’s Wing subsidiary last month announced plans to begin using its small aircraft to deliver goods from a Walgreens in suburban Dallas. Amazon.com is developing what it calls Prime Air and United Parcel Service has also begun pilot drone delivery programmes.
So far, however, the efforts have been limited as the US Federal Aviation Administration develops regulations to oversee longer-range flights and works to develop a low-altitude air-traffic system to safely guide the new craft.
In the Walmart-DroneUp partnership, for example, the drone operator or some other human observer must keep the aircraft in sight at all times, according to an FAA waiver granted to the company last June.
“We’re already hearing great customer feedback at our first site in Farmington, Arkansas, and look forward to opening additional locations,” said Walmart vice president Tom Ward.
Four cans of tuna fish were the inaugural delivery on November 15, Mr Walker said. The company charges US$10 per delivery, but is trying to lower costs by improving efficiency, he said.