Drone delivering groceries

Walmart planning drone delivery of packages to millions of customers

Image credit: Walmart

Retail giant Walmart has announced plans to make affordable drone delivery services available in six US states by the end of the year.

Walmart is planning the largest-scale rollout of drone delivery services so far. The company’s drones are expected to reach four million people by the end of 2022.

Through an expansion of the partnership with drone manufacturer DroneUp, Walmart will be able to send packages to clients via drones, lowering the items to customers homes using a cable. The delivery service costs $3.99 (£3.17) for a package of up to 10 pounds and takes 30 minutes or less to arrive.

The deliveries will be fulfilled from a total of 37 stores, reaching households in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah and Virginia. The company originally launched the programme in November 2021 but until now the retailer had only offered its drone delivery services from a few stores near its headquarters in northwest Arkansas and North Carolina.

"While we initially thought customers would use the service for emergency items, we're finding they use it for its sheer convenience, like a quick fix for a weeknight meal," said David Guggina, Walmart's senior vice president of innovation and automation.

"Case in point: the top-selling item at one of our current hubs is Hamburger Helper."

Drone delivering packages

Drone delivering packages /Walmart

Image credit: Walmart

The expanded network will give Walmart the capacity to deliver one million packages by air in a year, the company said.

The new method of delivery has been perceived as an extension of Walmart’s strategy to use its huge physical footprint as a competitive edge. About 90 per cent of Americans live within 10 miles of one of Walmart’s more than 4,700 stores. 

However, attaining those goals depends on changes to US rules that currently require flights to remain within a drone operator's line of sight. The Federal Aviation Administration is still developing the framework for how a new air-traffic system for the devices would work. Moreover, other questions remain about potential community concerns, such as noise.

At the moment, drone-delivery orders must be placed on DroneUp’s website or through the websites of the two other operators. Walmart said it plans to eventually add the order-placing capability to its own website and app.

Walmart has bought a stake in the drone company and it expects to also use the drones to make additional profit by selling photographs taken by drones to municipalities and local businesses, such as construction or real-estate companies. The revenue will be split with the drone operator.

"DroneUp has been a reliable partner as we've tested this solution," Guggina said. "Their capabilities will enable our business to scale with speed while maintaining a high calibre of safety and quality."

Currently, workers at the Walmart location receive the order, pack it into a box and then secure the box to a drone. A pilot then flies the drone to the customer, with the delivery box dropped onto their front lawn using what looks like a giant claw.

Advances in autonomous drone technology might mean that the drones could one day make the journeys on their own.

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