Walmart this year plans to roll out DroneUp drone delivery for online orders to six states, enabling the retailer to serve 4 million households via the service.
In a blog post on Tuesday, David Guggina, senior vice president of innovation and automation for Walmart U.S., said Walmart aims to expand DroneUp delivery to 34 sites in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah and Virginia by the end of 2022. That will give the Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant the ability to deliver more 1 million packages by drone annually. (Click here to see Walmart video of DroneUp delivery.)
Guggina noted that Walmart has been working on drone delivery over the past year. Last June, Walmart U.S. CEO John Furner said Walmart made an undisclosed investment in DroneUp after conducting a delivery pilot with the Virginia Beach, Va.-based drone flight services provider in 2020. Previously, Walmart and DroneUp had made trial deliveries of COVID-19 home test kits, which Walmart said demonstrated that drones could provide delivery in minutes rather than hours.
Then in November, Walmart announced its first commercial DroneUp delivery for online customers in northwest Arkansas, starting with a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Farmington and later launching the service at a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Rogers and a Walmart Supercenter in Bentonville.
“After completing hundreds of deliveries within a matter of months across our existing DroneUp hubs, we’ve seen firsthand how drones can offer customers a practical solution for getting certain items, fast,” Guggina said in the blog. “More importantly, we’ve seen a positive response from our customers that have used the service. In fact, while we initially thought customers would use the service for emergency items, we’re finding they use it for its sheer convenience, like a quick fix for a weeknight meal. Case in point: The top-selling item at one of our current hubs is Hamburger Helper.”
Participating Walmart stores will house a DroneUp delivery hub with a team of certified drone pilots that safely manage delivery flight operations within FAA guidelines. After a customer places an order, the item is fulfilled from the store, packaged, loaded into the drone and delivered to their home using a cable that gently lowers the package.
Customers place their drone delivery orders at droneupdelivery.com. Through the service, operating from 8 a.m to 8 p.m., shoppers can order from tens of thousands of items — such as Tylenol, diapers and hot dog buns — for delivery by air in as soon as 30 minutes, according to Guggina. The delivery fee costs $3.99 for an order of up to 10 pounds.
“The customer has always been at the center of our focus at Walmart, and we look for partners that are as laser-focused on customer experience as we are,” Guggina said. “DroneUp has been a reliable partner as we’ve tested this solution, and their capabilities will enable our business to scale with speed while maintaining a high caliber of safety and quality.”
As the partnership with DroneUp expands, Walmart also expects to be able to provide drone delivery to other companies. The retailer already has launched Walmart GoLocal, a white-label “delivery as a service” that offers its e-commerce and logistics capabilities to other businesses, including small to large retailers.
“Walmart packages aren’t the only thing the drones will deliver. A core value at Walmart is to give back to the communities in which we operate, which is why as we scale our drone infrastructure, we’ll continue to influence the expansion of drone technology and enable other businesses to explore its benefits, too,” said Guggina. “This means DroneUp will offer local businesses and municipalities aerial drone solutions in areas like insurance, emergency response and real estate. For example, a local construction agency can work with DroneUp to monitor on-site job progress through aerial drone photography. Not only will the added revenue help offset the cost of delivery, but it also serves the entire drone industry by gathering more flight data as we work together to expand drone operations in a safe and regulated way.”
DroneUp operates commercially nationwide and is an authorized government drone services provider for 11 states, where it serves public sector organizations. Walmart noted that DroneUp’s on-demand drone delivery network includes a database of more than 10,000 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-certified pilots, and the company was the first operator to use the FAA 107.39 waiver, an operation that allows delivery flights over people and moving vehicles.
“We’ll be able to deploy a drone for aerial inspection or rapidly deploy drones for a first responder or public safety support in a way that hasn’t been available before,” DroneUp CEO and founder Tom Walker told DroneLife. “These hubs will be manned and ready to go, with the ability to get a drone in the air in a minute.”