Wal-Mart is joining Google and Amazon in the effort to make delivery-drones a reality. On Monday, the world’s largest retailer applied to United States regulators for permission to test its drones, which it hopes to use to deliver merchandise to customer’s homes. It also requested permission to test the drones for curbside pickups and for checking the inventories of warehouses.
The move by Wal-Mart signals that it plans to compete head on with Amazon in using drones to process and deliver orders placed online.
Wal-Mart has been testing its drones inside for several months. It now seeks to take the tests outside. The company is using drones manufactured by the Chinese company, SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd.
Wal-Mart wishes to have its drones take inventories of certain trailers that are located outside of its warehouses. It also hopes to use the machines in streamlining processes and increasing the efficiency of its distribution system. Moreover, according to a copy of the application filed, Wal-Mart requested from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) permission to conduct research on drone use for “deliveries to customers at Walmart facilities, as well as to consumer homes.”
With the expectation that the FAA will soon finalize rules and regulations regarding the widespread use of commercial drones, the big retailers are amping up their drone testing. In June, FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker said that the federal agency hoped and expected to finalize rules and regulations within the next year. Although currently the use of commercial drones is illegal, companies can apply to the FAA for exemptions.
Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Toporek stated that the company is anxious to get its drone program moving. “Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centers, fulfillment centers and transportation fleet.There is a Wal-mart within five miles of 70 percent of the U.S. population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones.”
In addition to testing drones for distribution efficiency and delivery of packages, Wal-Mart wishes to test its drones in relation to its grocery pickup service, which is expanding across the country. The test flights will determine if a drone could successfully deliver a package filled with groceries to a pick-up destination in a store parking lot.
Presently, the FAA has reviewed and approved more than 2,100 exemptions that allow for commercial drone testing.