Wal-Mart is seeking permission to test its new drone delivery service, it has recently been announced.
In an effort to rival against similar services which will be provided by Amazon and Alphabet (the parent company of Google), the retail giant has sought the support of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The initial objective is to be allowed to test drones outside, with the ultimate aim of using these unmanned aerial vehicles for package delivery.
“Wal-Mart’s distribution system could become more efficient and consumers could be better served, benefiting the public interest”, explained representatives of the multinational retail corporation.
Wal-Mart is currently the world’s largest company by revenue, according to the annual Fortune Global 500 ranking released in 2014. It’s also the biggest private employer across the globe, with 2.2 million employees on its payroll.
The company has already been taking steps to expedite its operations, for example by opening online fulfillment centers, by promoting in-store pickup following online orders, and by testing an annual subscription-shopping service to rival Amazon Prime.
Incorporating the innovative technology of drone-assisted delivery would help streamline its processes, while keeping the company ahead of its major competitors.
This step is essential now that Amazon has managed to boost its market value to $249 billion, surpassing Wal-Mart’s $231 billion open market valuation. Back in July 2014 the online retailer has also sought regulatory support from the FAA to test its new drone delivery system, Prime Air.
Wal-Mart has already been testing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) indoors, where no authorization was required from federal authorities, but now it needs to take this initiative one step further.
The petition will have to be reviewed by the FAA, and a decision will be formulated in about 120 days. If the waiver is granted, the quadcopters will initially be used in order to help track warehouse merchandise, by keeping an inventory of trailers in its distribution centers.
Other potential functions detailed in the application include employing drones for delivering grocery in parking lots outside stores, or for launching packages from a truck to neighborhood homes.
Two UAV models provided by SZ DJI Technology Co., the world’s largest manufacturer of small civilian drones, will be the ones included in the trials. More precisely, Wal-Mart will be using the DJI S900 and the DJI Phantom 3 Professional, it has been reported.
Based on the success of these tests, the company will then decide if the roll-out could continue, in order to encompass a greater part of its daily operations.
Commercial drone use is illegal at the moment, but the FAA has granted waivers to more than 2,100 private firms seeking to employ drones for aerial surveillance, photography etc. However, none of these exemptions give the possibility of ensuring home delivery.
They only allow performing low-altitude flights, exclusively during daytime, within the operator’s line of sight and away from bystanders, in order to keep such procedures completely safe.
However, there has been growing pressure on the federal agency to test beyond-line-of-sight drones also, and the FDA has begun such trials in partnership with BNSF Railway and UAV-maker PrecisionHawk.
Moreover, according to FDA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker new regulations for widespread commercial UAV use will be introduced by June 2016. It remains to be seen which company will eventually win the drone delivery race, as the FAA begins to liberalize such operations.
Image Source: Flickr