Walmart has applied for permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to use drones commercially. Hobbyist drones aren’t generally allowed to be used for commercial purposes outdoors, but companies can apply for permission, as Amazon did.
The FAA is expecting to loosen regulations next year.
Walmart says the drones have already been used internally (help with checking inventory was hinted at, as well as testing their potential for delivery), but that they’re now thinking it would be handy to send unmanned flights with freight from a distribution center to a store, or even for home delivery for customers.
It’s another step in streamlining the omnichannel shopper experience and leveraging the existing infrastructure to provide faster, more efficient delivery of online orders.
One of the most likely uses would be to meet customers at parking lot kiosks for online orders set for pickup at the store. Orders could be picked and packed and sent by drone to parking lot kiosks.
The drones will be sourced in China.
Walmart says everything is ready to implement drone deliveries as soon as the FAA gives permission. How quickly that happens depends on a number of factors. If the FAA determines that Walmart’s request is similar enough to those of companies like Amazon and Google that it isn’t going to set a new precedent, the request could be fast-tracked for a fast response. There have been more than two thousand exemptions granted already.
If Walmart’s request might create a new precedent, there will have to be a thorough risk analysis and public comment might be solicited before the decision is made.
For suppliers, this can be a reminder that Walmart is working on their own efficiency and costs, as well as demanding that suppliers do so. The other big takeaway: it might be time to make sure your packaging is drone-friendly.