In a move that signifies Walmart's plans to take on Amazon, Walmart recently applied to U.S. regulators seeking permission to test drones for home delivery, curbside pickup, and conducting warehouse inventory checks.
For the past several months, according to Reuters, the world’s largest retailer has been conducting indoor tests of drones.
Walmart’s application to the FAA is based on the expectation set by FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker who said in June that the agency expected to finalize regulations within the next 12 months, as reported by Reuters.
Walmart said it was ready to move quickly once regulations are determined.
"Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centers, fulfillment centers and transportation fleet," Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Toporek told Rueters. "There is a Walmart within five miles of 70% of the U.S. population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones."
In the FAA application, Wal-Mart said it wanted to test drones for taking stock of trailers and other items in the parking lot of a warehouse using electronic tagging and other methods.
The company wants to test drones for its grocery pickup service. The test flights would confirm whether a drone could deliver a package to a pick-up point in the parking lot of a store, the application says.
Wal-Mart also said it wants to test home delivery in small residential neighborhoods after obtaining permission from those living in the flight path. The test would see if a drone could be deployed from a truck "to safely deliver a package at a home and then return safely to the same," the application says.
Walmart plans to use drones manufactured by China's SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd.
Of course Amazon started testing drones in 2013 and has been flight-testing in other countries, while awaiting FAA decisions.
“If the two biggest retailers are doing this, they won't be the last or only ones to do so,” said Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Commerce.
“However, the U.S. government is going to have to come up with regulations on all this traffic,” Caporaso added. “There have already been drone problems for air traffic controllers in major league ballparks and elsewhere with private drone users, and trying to draw a line between individual usage and commercial usage won't be easy.
“Amazon and Walmart obviously have a lot of money to spend on lobbying, but smaller-pocketed retailers may not want to support this action, so retail associations, particularly small business alliances, may try to lobby for tighter regulations.
“From an e-commerce point of view, this will benefit consumers as long as the cost of drone deliveries isn't substantial. Consumers are more interested in free shipping than fast shipping, and while everyone likes convenience, no one wants to pay for it. “