Walmart is the latest retailer to begin testing drone deliveries for customer orders to build out its on-demand fulfillment capabilities.
The retail giant announced a partnership today with Tel Aviv-based drone delivery company Flytrex to deliver “select grocery and household essential items” in Fayetteville, N.C. (And, according to Flytrex, the startup is also delivering “multiple care packs with essentials” from a Walmart Supercenter in Grand Forks, N.D. to consumers in the area who subscribe to its services.)
On its website, Flytrex says its drones can carry up to 6.6 pounds—which is equivalent to about seven hamburgers—with a flight range of 7 miles roundtrip. Flytrex drones travel at 32 miles per hour at an altitude of 230 feet, but not in rain or when wind gusts are stronger than 18mph.
In a blog post, Walmart acknowledged drone delivery “still feels like a bit of science fiction” and “it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone.”
However, the retailer said the drones will provide additional insight into the customer and employee experience, including picking, packing and delivery, which it views as supplemental to the intel it has garnered via prior delivery pilots with autonomous vehicle companies like Gatik, Ford and Nuro.
“At the end of the day, it’s learnings from pilots such as this that will help shape the potential of drone delivery on a larger scale,” Tom Ward, svp of customer product, wrote in the post.
Flytrex is part of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program, which the FAA says seeks to “to test and evaluate the integration of civil and public drone operations into our national airspace system.” The drone delivery startup has also partnered with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to “standardize backyard drone delivery.”
States in the middle of the Eastern seaboard are popular for drone tests so far. Last October, for example, UPS announced a partnership with CVS Pharmacy and completed two prescription deliveries in Cary, N.C. a month later. And, just north of the state border in Virginia, Wing Aviation, the air delivery subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet, is working with FedEx, Walgreens and a local retailer to make deliveries to customers in Christiansburg.
News of the Walmart pilot program comes just days after Amazon confirmed it has FAA approval to use UAS for commercial packages, and it intends to begin tests with the goal of delivering packages within 30 minutes.
While Flytrex has also worked with a golf course in North Dakota to deliver food and drinks to players, drone delivery is far more prolific outside the U.S. Case in point: Flytrex is also working with the Icelandic Transportation Authority to test drone deliveries in Reykjavik, including with Aha, an ecommerce platform that delivers food from restaurants and grocers.
Chinese ecommerce platform JD.com has what is likely the most advanced drone delivery network in the world, with seven types of drones and over 100 routes. Drone deliveries have also been done in Australia, Finland and Rwanda.
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