It’s no secret that Walmart and Amazon have been waging an ongoing retail war. But recently, the former’s copycat efforts have gotten far less subtle.
A patent application filed by Walmart in February and published in August by the US Patent and Trademark Office proposes an “aerial transport and launch system” for dispatching delivery drones in mid-air—or, as Bloomberg describes it, a “blimp-style floating warehouse” that would send orders down from the sky.
Designed to fly at heights of at least 500 feet and typically more than 1,000 feet, the aircraft would be operated autonomously or by a remote human pilot and coordinated with scheduling software.
“In a modern retail environment, there is a need to improve the customer service and/or convenience for the customer,” the patent states. “One aspect of customer service is the availability of products. The availability of products is dependent in part on the distribution.”
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because Amazon was a granted a patent for almost the same exact concept, back in April 2016. “This disclosure describes systems and methods for utilizing an aerial fulfillment center (“AFC”) and unmanned aerial vehicles (“UAV”) to facilitate delivery of ordered items to users,” says Amazon’s patent. “An AFC may be a fulfillment center that is supported by and/or incorporated into an airship.”
Both companies are vying to lower the costs of delivery for the so-called “last mile,” from distribution center to final destination. The main difference, according to Khaled Fekih-Romdhane, managing partner at patent-licensing firm Longhorn IP, is that Walmart offered more detail about how it would power a gas-filled aircraft. As a result, he told Bloomberg, Walmart will likely have its patent request approved.