Supermarket giant Walmart takes Amazon up a notch, launches drone delivery

The leader of mass distribution in the United States, Walmart, yesterday launched a commercial drone delivery service with the start-up DroneUp. He had also discreetly invested in this structure this summer.

Only the town of Farmington, in rural Arkansas, is concerned and currently houses a hub. Rogers and Bentonville will be in the coming months. The product catalog remains limited to consumer goods, such as diapers or cans of tuna, provided that the total of the races does not exceed 2.2 kilos. Shipping costs are $ 10. The range of DroneUp is also restricted since the radius of action is 1.6 km around supermarkets.

Packages are transmitted by sliding them along a cable from the quadcopters. A flight operator monitors the progress of the drone equipped with a camera mounted on a control tower at the hub site. This makes it possible to avoid breaking the regulations since a civilian drone in theory does not have the right to operate autonomously out of the sight of the operator.
The DroneUp site claims that several flights per hour can be made and that the delivery arrives approximately 30 minutes after the order is placed. As long as the weather is good enough to fly.

Walmart wants to go fast

Walmart had tested the delivery by drone in 2015. It had also experimented last year with DroneUp of the deliveries of COVID tests in North Las Vegas and Cheektowaga (New York). A collaboration that quickly led to:

“When we invested in DroneUp earlier this year, we wanted a drone delivery that could be quickly set up and replicated in multiple stores.”said Tom Ward, senior vice president of “last mile” at Walmart.
“The opening of our first hub a few months after our initial concept shows DroneUp’s ability to safely execute drone delivery operations quickly”.

A network of 4,700 supermarkets

Walmart is definitely looking to improve last mile deliveries in rural areas. But he could go further. Because its great strength is to have a network of 4,700 supermarkets throughout the United States. They would all be likely to be transformed into a hub if the legislation ever allowed it.

The company also began a drone delivery program last week for certain customers within 80 km of the Pea Ridge supermarket, still in Arkansas. The products are limited to the health and wellness sector.

This time it relies on the start-up Zipline. Its particularity is not to use landing zones, but to release the products thanks to a parachute. The company got a green light from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in early 2021.

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The Amazon pioneer in retreat

This is a nice move for Walmart, which is ahead of Amazon. The e-commerce giant was the first in the drone delivery race, eight years ago, but its experiments are materializing less quickly. He has certainly tested drones in Washington State, British Columbia, Canada, and Cambridge, England. It has also opened research centers in Europe (Great Britain, France, Austria) and in Israel.

But since the presentation of a new drone model in 2019, no major announcements. Wired UK and Bloomberg News even mentioned the downsizing of Amazon Prime Air and the reassignment of some teams to other projects.
Yet officially, Amazon continues to assert its ambition to become the leader in drone delivery and continue to be a pioneer. It received official certification as a drone air carrier from the FCC last year.

Sources : Zipeline, DroneUp, Geekwire

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