Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, on Wednesday launched a pilot program to offer grocery delivery by drone from a Fayetteville, N.C., store, its latest salvo in the ongoing battle for share of online grocery and delivery business.
The partnership with end-to-end drone delivery company Flytrex focuses on delivering select grocery and household essential items from Walmart stores using Flytrex’s automated drones.
According to a blog post from Tom Ward, senior vice president, customer product at Walmart, “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.”
“We know that it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone,” Ward said. “That still feels like a bit of science fiction, but we’re at a point where we’re learning more and more about the technology that is available and how we can use it to make our customers’ lives easier.”
The pilot program is the latest high-tech delivery initiative from Walmart, which has tested grocery delivery using Nuro autonomous vehicles in Houston. That pilot used an unmanned Nuro R2 delivery vehicle — which only hauls products and has no onboard driver or passengers — as well as autonomous Toyota Priuses to bring Walmart online grocery orders to customers’ homes.
Walmart’s drone pilot comes just one week after rival retail giant Amazon was given approval to operate its fleet of Prime Air delivery drones from the Federal Aviation Administration. While Amazon said that the Prime Air fleet isn’t ready to deploy package deliveries at scale, the company is actively flying and testing the technology.
Even smaller grocery chains are exploring drone delivery. This fall, regional supermarket chain Rouses Markets in Louisiana plans to test drone grocery delivery service with Boston-based Deuce Drone at a store in Mobile, Ala.
“Drone delivery offers the fastest, safest delivery store to door,” said CEO Donny Rouse. “We should be able to get groceries to customers in 30 minutes, or even less. Plus it’s more cost-efficient, meaning we can save customers time and money.”