Walmart has invested in drone flight services provider DroneUp as part of an effort to enable drone delivery for online orders.
In a blog post today, Walmart U.S. CEO John Furner said Walmart conducted a delivery pilot in 2020 with Virginia Beach, Va.-based DroneUp and has now made an investment in the company. He didn’t disclose the amount of the investment.
“Last year, we partnered with DroneUp, a nationwide drone services provider, to launch trial deliveries of at-home COVID-19 self-collection kits. The trial demonstrated we could offer customers delivery in minutes versus hours,” Furner wrote in the blog. “Now, after safely completing hundreds of drone deliveries from Walmart stores [click here to see video], we’re making an investment in DroneUp to continue our work toward developing a scalable last-mile delivery solution.”
DroneUp operates commercially nationwide and is an authorized government drone services provider for 11 states, where it serving public sector organizations, according to Walmart. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer 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.
“The drone services industry has reached an inflection point of rapidly increased adoption and acceptance,” DroneUp founder and CEO Tom Walker said in a statement. “Walmart’s vast hub-and-spoke network, combined with DroneUp’s extensive operational expertise, will unlock affordable rapid delivery and nationwide drone services.”
Plans call for Walmart to begin its first operation with DroneUp at a store in Bentonville in the coming months.
“Walmart already has a significant part of the infrastructure in place — 4,700 stores stocked with more than 100,000 of the most-purchased items, located within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population. This makes us uniquely positioned to execute drone deliveries, which is why our investment in DroneUp won’t just apply to the skies but also the ground,” Furner said.
“Conducting drone deliveries at scale is within reach,” he added. “DroneUp’s expertise, combined with our retail footprint and proven history of logistics innovation, puts us right where we want to be for that day. Because when it comes to the future of drone delivery, we know the sky’s the limit.”
Last September, Walmart tested grocery delivery by drone from a Fayetteville, N.C., store with Israel-based drone delivery company Flytrex. The pilot focused on delivering select grocery and household essential items from Walmart stores using Flytrex’s automated drones.
And then this past April, Walmart said it invested in San Francisco-based Cruise, a majority-owned subsidiary of General Motors, to use Cruise electric-powered autonomous vehicles for last-mile delivery. The move followed a pilot with Cruise’s self-driving vehicles announced last November and begun early this year.
Earlier in 2020, Walmart tested the unmanned Nuro R2 delivery vehicle in Houston to bring online grocery orders to customers’ homes. And in July 2019, Walmart announced it was working with Gatik on a “middle-mile” logistics pilot using the tech startup’s self-driving Ford Transit Connect vans to help move goods from the Walmart Supercenter in Rogers, Ark., to a Walmart Neighborhood Market in nearby Bentonville.
Other Walmart partners in pilots of self-driving vehicles for online grocery delivery have included Udelv (in Surprise, Ariz.), Ford (in Miami-Dade County, Fla.) and Waymo. In the test with Waymo (formerly Google’s self-driving car project), conducted in Chandler, Ariz., autonomous vehicles pick up customers at their homes and take them to the store to collect their orders.
Walmart U.S. e-commerce sales surged by 79% in its 2021 fiscal year ended Feb. 18.
“In our ongoing effort to get customers the items they want, and fast, we know it will take a well-coordinated network of delivery solutions that span the streets, sidewalks and skies,” Furner said in the blog. “Some of these solutions are still emerging, but they’re already showing encouraging results.”