Walmart filed an application for a 333 Exemption with the FAA on Monday, seeking to become the latest giant retailer to test drones for delivery and other processes. Having already tested drones inside their stores and warehouses, the company says that they are now ready to test drones outside. Using drones from industry leader DJI, Walmart plans to test applications such as stocktaking by electric tagging from trucks in a parking lot; surveillance of their buildings and parking lots; and short range delivery from a retail store or warehouse location to a pickup point in the parking lot, as part of the grocery pickup service.
In addition, they’d like to use drones for delivery to small residential neighborhoods, saying that any such delivery service would be made only with the explicit permission of any homeowners on the route.
While current applications typically take the FAA 120 days to process, Walmart’s application could be fast-tracked due to its similarity to others. Walmart spokesperson Dan Toporek told Reuters that the company would move as quickly as possible towards implementing drone technology.
“Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centers, fulfillment centers and transportation fleet,” he said. “There is a Walmart within five miles of 70 percent of the U.S. population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones.”
The announcement comes after Google X’s successful test of a new delivery drone design was posted to Twitter last week. Retail delivery plans remain only theoretical, however, until the FAA announces the new regulations for the integration of drones into regulated airspace. Current laws do not allow for delivery, and the only successful delivery flight in the US so far was performed by Australian company Flirtey as part of an FAA and NASA sponsored test. Retailer Amazon has already said that they would be ready to implement drone delivery as soon as the FAA regulations are finalized.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.