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Walmart enters the race to drone delivery in consumer market

Mon 26 Oct 2015

The multinational retail corporation Walmart applied to U.S.’s Federal Aviation Administration on Monday for permission to trial drone use for home delivery, street pickups and warehouse inventory checking, in a bid to at least catch up with the current research efforts of its retail competitors to integrate drones into delivery networks.

Reuters was able to take a look at the application, and quoted a section of it wherein Walmart, which operated at an income of $27.147bn in 2014, asks for permission to use semi-automated delivery drones to be used in ‘deliveries to customers at Walmart facilities, as well as to consumer homes‘.

The application details a proposed method of using drones to take inventory stock for trailers and other containers in warehouse parking areas via electronic tagging and other unnamed procedures.

Additionally the company is seeking to incorporate drones into its grocery collection services, due to expand to a total of 43 markets by next year. The trials would establish the capability of drones to drop a package off at a collection point in a store’s parking lot, according to the application.

The application also lays out a plan to trial drone-based home delivery in small residential areas after having obtained permission from those within the intended flight paths, with the intention of verifying whether a drone can be sent from a delivery vehicle ‘to safely deliver a package at a home and then return safely to the same‘, according to the application.

Spokesman Dan Toporek told the news agency that the retailer was keen to deploy drones, pending the advance of federal regulations on drone use in commercial activities, noting the great potential of flying delivery services to facilitate the company’s vast U.S. network, and adding “There is a Walmart within five miles of 70 percent of the U.S. population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones.”

Walmart’s many global concerns are not addressed in this U.S.-specific application, but the company has strong re-brand chains in South Africa (Massmart Holdings Ltd), Asia (Seiyu in Japan and Yihaodian in China, among others), with its UK Asda brand accounting for nearly half of the corporation’s international take.

Earlier this month U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced the creation of a task force to develop working recommendations for potential registration services for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), with an initial report due by November 20th – and its one that Amazon, the US Postal Service and now Walmart, among many others, will be awaiting with interest before trial proposals can evolve into fully-funded experimental plans for the next few years.

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