Walmart to begin drone delivery service to 4 million households | cities

As many as 4m American households will be able to get food, groceries and supplies from Walmart delivered by flying, remote-controlled drones by the end of the year, according to the retail chain.

Walmart announced that its delivery service with the operator DroneUp will be rolled out in six states, making it the country’s first large-scale drone delivery program.

Parts of Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah and Virginia could be on the receiving end of more than 1m packages by drone annually, the firm predicted.

Walmart said it would charge $3.99 per delivery, with a weight limit of up to 10lb, according to the principle that “if it fits safely it flies”.

The company did not specify how a vastly increased number of drones would negotiate airspace concerns or potential conflicts with other operators, nor how the machines would be powered. Some observers have argued that drone delivery could represent a more energy-efficient method of home delivery over road vehicles powered by fossil fuel, as well as potentially reducing urban air pollution.

Many cities around the world now allow robot delivery vehicles – guided by human handlers – to use sidewalks to deliver food and supplies as an example of “last-mile logistics”, mostly for fresh food delivery, but Walmart’s drone project significantly expands the range of products that could be dropped by air. The company said it will offer up to 100,000 different products from a variety of categories, from detergent to batteries to snacks.

The retail behemoth is in a race to develop drone deliveries with other major e-commerce giants, including Amazon. It is betting that its massive advantage in physical stores – more than 4,700, with more than nine in 10 Americans living within 10 miles of an outlet – will give it a competitive edge. Although the number of stores fulfilling drone deliveries will rise to just 37 (Walmart already has a few drone delivery stores near its headquarters), the expanded plan represents a major rollout.

Customer orders will be packaged at the stores, then flown by a remote pilot to a front yard or driveway, where the package will be lowered to the ground using a cable.

Although the early pilot projects primarily delivered household essentials and at-home Covid-19 test kits, Walmart said its research indicated that customers didn’t consider drone delivery to be for emergencies only. It pointed out that its top delivery item in one location was Hamburger Helper.

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