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06/17/2021

Walmart invests in drone provider

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Walmart is showing clear confidence in the future of drone delivery. 

The discount giant is following up on a pilot it ran with nationwide drone services provider DroneUp in fall 2020 to deliver at-home COVID-19 self-collection kits via drone. According to Walmart, the trial demonstrated it could offer customers delivery in minutes versus hours. After safely completing hundreds of drone deliveries from Walmart stores, the company is making an unspecified investment in DroneUp to continue developing what it calls a scalable last-mile delivery solution.

DroneUp operates an on-demand drone delivery network that matches its database of more than 10,000 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-certified pilots to missions nationwide. DroneUp was the first operator to use the FAA 107.39 waiver, an operation that allows for delivery flights to be conducted over people and moving vehicles. The company operates commercially throughout the U.S., and is an authorized government drone services provider for 11 U.S. states serving public sector organizations.

Walmart already has a significant part of the drone delivery 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. 

According to Walmart, its investment in DroneUp “won’t just apply to the skies but also the ground.” In the coming months, the retailer will begin its first DroneUp delivery operation at a store in in headquarters city of Bentonville, Arkansas.

In April 2021, Walmart announced a similar investment in Cruise, an autonomous electric vehicle company. That investment countered an investment Amazon previously made in electric van manufacturer Rivian. By becoming directly involved with a drone manufacturer, Walmart is again entering space occupied by Amazon, which develops its own proprietary Prime Air drones

“Conducting drone deliveries at scale is within reach,” John Furner, Walmart CEO and president, U.S., said in a corporate blog post. "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."