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Walmart Pilots Drone Delivery Service in North Carolina

September 15, 2020

On Sept. 9, Walmart announced a pilot of a new on-demand drone delivery service in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The pilot project is operating in partnership with Flytrex, an end-to-end drone delivery company.

The pilot scheme will focus on delivering a selection of grocery and household items and is largely intended to gather data for future development of the service. In a statement from Walmart, Tom Ward, Walmart’s senior vice president of customer product, said that “the drones, which are controlled over the cloud using a smart and easy control dashboard, will help us gain valuable insight into the customer and associate experience, from picking and packing to takeoff and delivery.”

Flytrex’s automated drones used for the project are larger than ordinary consumer models and will carry loads weighing up to 6.6 pounds. After the customer places an order, a staff member will load the goods into a blue shopping bag and pack them into the drone’s fastened delivery box. The drone then receives instructions from the cloud, flies to the customer’s house, hovers over an open space and uses a wire release mechanism to safely deliver the cargo from a height of 80 feet.

According to Flytrex’s website, the drones can deliver up to 3.5 miles from the starting location and cruise at a speed of 32 miles per hour and an altitude of 230 feet. They will not operate in rainy conditions or winds faster than 18 miles per hour. The drones are optimized to operate in suburban environments and flight paths will prioritize avoiding flying above people. Out of consideration for privacy concerns, the drones are not equipped with cameras and instead navigate using a combination of GPS and sensors.

The pilot scheme follows after rival Amazon recently announced that its Prime Air delivery drones had gained approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. Amazon first began exploring the concept of drone delivery in 2013. To further add to its offerings, Walmart is also debuting its own membership service, Walmart+, which launched on Sept. 14 and slightly undercuts rival service Amazon Plus at a price of $98 a year.

With online shopping and convenient delivery options becoming ever more important during the ongoing pandemic, both retail giants are upping the ante in a bid to stay at the forefront of shopping and delivery technology. “At the end of the day, it’s learnings from pilots such as this that will help shape the potential of drone delivery on a larger scale,” says Ward.

Image: Walmart

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