It looks like Wal-Mart will be joining the race to integrate drones into its sales services. Like Amazon, Google, and others, Wal-Mart has applied to U.S. regulators for permission to test drones for home delivery, curbside pickup, and warehouse inventorying to fill and deliver orders.
In fact, Wal-Mart has been indoor testing drones manufactured by China’s SZ DJI Technology Co. Ltd. for several months. In order to take their research to the next level, however, they will need the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Currently, commercial drone use is illegal, but companies can apply for exemption, a process that usually takes 120 days or more. However, the FAA’s Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker recently stated that the agency hopes to complete their review of these requests more quickly, which has led more companies to send in requests.
“Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centers, fulfillment centers, and transportation fleet,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Toporek. He suggested that Wal-Mart will move quickly to integrate drones into their services once they receive approval.
The scenarios in which Wal-Mart wants to test drones include taking inventory in warehouses, delivering groceries from the store to the customer’s car in the parking lot, and neighborhood deliveries directly to the customer’s home—assuming they get permission from the residents in their flight paths.
Wal-Mart’s move makes sense: drone technology could definitely improve the quality and speed of their services, and with a Wal-Mart located within five miles of 70% of the U.S. population, drones could make Wal-Mart even more convenient for customers.
It could be just the right time for Wal-Mart to take this step, too, with a surprise projection of a decline in earnings next year, thanks to increased wages, price competition, and boosting online sales.
The FAA has already approved more than 2,100 exemptions for companies to test drones, including for Amazon earlier this year.