American retail chain Walmart seeks to join the drone-delivery bandwagon and hopes to obtain permission from the US Federal Aviation Administration to use drones for experimental grocery deliveries.
The world’s largest retailer by revenue, Walmart has applied for the permit on Monday after conducting indoor trials for several months.
According to Reuters, Walmart asked the FAA to use drones for ‘deliveries to customers at Walmart's facilities as well as to customers at home’.
The retailer wants to use drones manufactured by Chinese firm SZ DJI Technology for taking stock of trailers and other items in the parking lot of a warehouse as well as for a grocery pickup service.
A Walmart distribution centre could have hundreds of trailers waiting in its yard, and drone technology combined with electronic tagging could potentially be used to quickly account for what each one is holding.
Walmart also said it wants to test home delivery in small residential neighbourhoods after obtaining permission from those living in the flight path. The test would see if a drone could be deployed from a truck to safely deliver a package to a house and then return back.
"Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centres, fulfilment centres and transportation fleet," said Walmart spokesman Dan Toporek. "There is a Walmart within five miles of 70 per cent of the US population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones."
Using drones for commercial purposes is currently prohibited in the US and firms have to apply for exceptions that are being considered by the FAA on a case by case basis.
The FAA usually takes 120 days to respond to an application. To date the agency has approved more than 2,100 exemptions allowing for commercial drone testing and use.
If FAA decides Walmart's application is similar enough to earlier successful applications, it would be eligible for a fast-track approval. In case Walmart's requirements differ too much from what has been approved previously, the regulator will conduct a detailed risk analysis and seek public comment before deciding on the permit, said the agency spokesman Les Dorr.
The FAA is currently working on new guidelines to regulate commercial use of drones and integrate the technology safely into the aerospace. Draft regulations published earlier this year expected only to allow drones to be flown within the sight of the operator, which would prevent autonomous drone deliveries as envisioned by Amazon.
But the FAA has said since it would revise the draft to accommodate the growing appetite for the technology, which could be used not only to deliver packages but also to inspect power lines or carry out crop surveys.
FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker said in June the agency aims to finalise the regulations within the next 12 months, faster than previously planned.