Walmart launches drone delivery pilot

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The retailer and its Israeli partner are gathering information that might lead to more widespread commercial deliveries.

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Walmart is taking the “next step” in a test of automated drones to deliver groceries and other household essentials.

The retailer is partnering with Flytrex on a pilot launching September 9 in Fayetteville, N.C., focused on deliveries from Walmart stores using Flytrex’s drones, according to a blog post on Walmart’s corporate website by Tom Ward, vice president of customer product at Walmart.

“The drones, which are controlled over the cloud using a smart and easy control dashboard, will help us gain valuable insight into the customer and associate experience, from picking and packing to takeoff and delivery,” Ward wrote.

Flytrex Aviation Ltd., headquartered in Tel Aviv, Israel, participated in a test last spring in Grand Forks, N.D., that used a drone to deliver merchandise ordered from a Walmart store. A hook and rope system lowered bagged items from the drone to a customer waiting some 60 feet below.

Also last spring, CVS pharmacy and UPS’ drone subsidiary began delivering prescription medicines to the nation’s largest retirement community using Matternet’s M2 drone delivery system. The service, approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, allowed operation of the drone deliveries during the coronavirus pandemic to customers in The Villages, a community in central Florida where 135,000 people live.

Other drone ventures have been launched in the past year, including one in Christiansburg, Va., that delivered over-the-counter drugs and other household items from local merchants, including Walgreens.

The FAA last month approved Amazon’s Prime Air arm as an official “air carrier,” marking a key milestone for Amazon’s drone delivery initiative.

The designation allows Amazon to begin commercial drone deliveries in the United States under a trial program that lets small delivery drones fly beyond visual line of sight. It’s not clear where and when they will begin, however.

“We know that it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone,” wrote Ward. “That still feels like a bit of science fiction, but we’re at a point where we’re learning more and more about the technology that is available and how we can use it to make our customers’ lives easier.”


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