Anything you can do, I can do a bit later. Reuters reported today (Oct. 26) that Walmart has applied to the Federal Aviation Administration for an exemption to test out drones in the US, with the end goal of delivering products by drones, much like Amazon intends to.
It’s currently illegal to fly drones for commercial purposes in the US, but the FAA has been granting exemptions on a case-by-case basis to companies before the agency figures out its final regulations. In June, the agency said it expects to have its regulations in place within a year—well after it expects over a million more drones to be sold as Christmas presents this holiday season.
According to Reuters, Walmart has been testing out drones made by DJI—a brand it even sells—indoors, and now wants to move those tests into the open. Were those tests to go according to plan, the retailer envisions a range of uses for drones in its stores and warehouses. Drones could be used to take stock of trailers bringing merchandise to stores, checking over what’s in each trailer to help expedite loading and unloading. The application also reportedly suggested that drones could potentially be used to carry items from stores to the parking lot, meaning customers wouldn’t have to carry their own groceries to their cars.
“Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centers, fulfillment centers and transportation fleet,” a Walmart spokesman told Reuters. “There is a Walmart within five miles of 70% of the U.S. population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones.”
Reuters suggested that Walmart is interested in delivering groceries to customers’ homes using drones. The company is in the process of expanding its grocery pickup service and drones could be a way to do that. Amazon has been working on its drone delivery service since late 2013, and was granted the same exemption that Walmart is looking for back in April. Amazon has also said that it plans to be ready to start offering a drone delivery service to its US Prime members as soon as the FAA codifies its regulations on drones.
Walmart recently fell behind Amazon in terms of market value, and is trying to bolster its online sales, which pale in comparison to Amazon’s. Whether Walmart can best Amazon on drone delivery—and what sort of impact that will have on sales—is still very much up in the air.