According to Reuters, Walmart filed paperwork on Monday with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for permission to test drones for home delivery, curbside pickup, and checking warehouse inventories. According to the report, the company has already been conducting indoor tests with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at its facilities.
Walmart indicated that it wanted to test drones for taking stock of trailers and other items in warehouse parking lots using electronic tagging and other methods. It was also interested in testing drones for its grocery pickup service and for home delivery in small residential neighborhoods, where it would test whether a drone could safely deliver a package to a home and then return safely to a truck from where it had been deployed.
"Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centers, fulfillment centers and transportation fleet," says Walmart spokesman Dan Toporek. "There is a Walmart within five miles of 70% of the U.S. population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones."
Walmart has indicated that it plans to use drones manufactured by SZ DJI Technology Co., Ltd. (Shenzhen, China). DJI estimates that it has about a 70% share of the commercial drone market worldwide and an even larger share of the consumer market.
Walmart’s move follows that of other companies – notably Amazon and Google – that have also been looking into using drones for commercial purposes. Currently the FAA has not yet established rules for widespread commercial use of drones, but has indicated that it expects to finalize such regulations within the next 12 months.
Meanwhile, companies are required to file for exemptions if they wish to use drones for commercial purposes. In August, the FAA announced it had approved over 1,000 such commercial drone permits – mostly for general aerial surveying and photography, as well as for agricultural applications – and was approving applications at the rate of about 50 per week.