Technology

Walmart applies for permission to test delivery drones

Walmart plans to use drones made by DJI if permission to test them is granted Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Walmart plans to use drones made by DJI if permission to test them is granted

Retail giant Walmart, which owns Asda in the UK, has applied for permission to test delivery drones in the US.

The firm has asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) if it can begin flight testing drones for home delivery, pick-up and warehouse tasks.

Walmart is the world's largest retailer by revenue and follows in the steps of Amazon, which is already testing drones for this purpose.

It has emerged that Walmart is already testing drones indoors.

A range of potential tasks for the drones to carry out could be evaluated.

These include dropping off products in Walmart car parks for customers to collect, and for inspecting digital tags on trucks at Walmart warehouses in order to check what they contain.

Direct deliveries to customers' homes could be trialled once the permission of residents in the flight path had been granted, the company said.

But Walmart's application suggests it might dispatch those drones from trucks in the area, and not directly from distribution centres.

Should the FAA grant permission, Walmart plans to use drones made by Chinese firm DJI.

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Media captionSingapore Post trials a drone-based delivery

Earlier in the year, Amazon received permission to begin testing its drones outdoors, although it must obey rules such as keeping the vehicles below 400 ft and only operating them via a human pilot.

Various other firms have started investigating the possibilities of drone delivery, including huge Chinese retailer Alibaba, courier DHL and the Singapore Post.

'Unique possibilities'

"Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centres, fulfilment centres and transportation fleet," said Walmart spokesman Dan Toporek in a statement.

"There is a Walmart within five miles of 70 % of the US population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones."

The move suggested thickening competition between the world's biggest retailers, according to Andrew Milroy, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

"This shows that Walmart is competing head-to-head with Amazon as it seeks ways of making its supply chains more efficient and ways of improving customer service," he said.

Retailers' moves into the area of drone delivery are to be taken seriously, suggested legal expert Luke Scanlon of law firm Pinsent Masons.

"Retailers are definitely seeing a future application," he told the BBC.

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