Walmart has launched into the commercial drone war – joining the likes of Amazon and Google in the race for ever-more-efficient air delivery. The retail giant on Monday applied to federal regulators for permission to test drones for home delivery.
For the last few months, Walmart has been testing two types of drones inside its facilities, but is hoping to move beyond the testing phase as quickly as possible, spokesman Dan Toporek told the New York Times. Toporek said the drones could be used to facilitate inventory work and enable curbside pickup, in addition to delivering packages to residential neighborhoods. The retailer’s market saturation gives it an edge when it comes to drone delivery, according to Toporek: “When you have stores within five miles of 70% of the U.S. population, we have close reach to get to a lot of people.”
Amazon has been touting its “Prime Air” drone delivery plan for two years, and has called for air space to be designated specifically for commercial drones. Google has also been hard testing its own version – the somewhat secretive Google Wing project. But there are many obstacles to overcome before commercial drone use takes off. Though individuals are permitted to fly drones, federal regulations prohibit commercial use, and some have expressed doubt that operators can safely fly the machines out of their field of vision. Polls have also shown that most Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of delivery drones.
But, Walmart, Amazon, Google and others expect a loosening of regulations in the near future. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has cited the belief that one day seeing a delivery drone would be “as common as seeing a mail truck.”