Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer (by revenue) and owner of Britain’s Asda, has applied to regulators for permission to test drones for home delivery, a move that will see it rival Amazon in the use of unmanned aircraft to deliver packages to customers.
WalMart has been carrying out indoor tests for several months and now, for the first time, is looking to try the machine outdoors. According to a copy of the application, WalMart is asking the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for permission to research drone use in "deliveries to customers at Walmart facilities, as well as to consumer homes".
The retail giant is also planning to use the aircraft to take inventory off of trucks outside its warehouses and perform other tasks that would streamline its distribution system.
Walmart has made its application at a time when Amazon, Google and other companies are testing drones with the hope that the FAA will soon set rules for their widespread commercial use. In June FAA deputy administrator Michael Whitaker said that the agency would likely finalise regulations within the next year, faster than previously planned. As of yet, the FAA has not set rules that would allow for drones’ commercial use.
Amazon, the e-tailer that recently introduced a one-hour delivery service, has said it will be ready to start delivering goods using drones as soon as federal rules allow it.
Reuters reported that Dan Toporel, a spokesman for WalMart, cited that the company would move quickly to deploy drones depending on its tests and regulations.
"Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centers, fulfillment centers and transportation fleet," he said. "There is a Walmart within five miles of 70% of the US population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones."
Finding ways to make its warehouse, transportation and delivery systems more efficient is a clear priority for Walmart, which earlier this month recorded an unprecedented decline in profits – one reason for which was an increase in online sales.
In its FAA application, Walmart said it hopes to test drones for its grocery pick-up service, which now reach 23 markets, with plans increase this by 20.
The application also outlines that Walmart wants to test home delivery in small, residential neighbourhoods after obtaining permission from those living in the flight path. The test would check whether a drone could be used from a truck "to safely deliver a package at a home and then return safely to the same".