Walmart is getting in the drone delivery game.
According to a report from Reuters, the company applied for a drone exemption asking US regulators to give them to go-ahead to test drones for home delivery, among other tasks.
The world's largest retailer by revenue has for several months been conducting indoor tests of small unmanned aircraft systems – the term regulators use for drones - and is now seeking for the first time to test the machines outdoors. It plans to use drones manufactured by China's SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd.
In addition to having drones take inventory of trailers outside its warehouses and perform other tasks aimed at making its distribution system more efficient, Wal-Mart is asking the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to research drone use in "deliveries to customers at Walmart facilities, as well as to consumer homes," according to a copy of the application reviewed by Reuters.
"Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centers, fulfillment centers and transportation fleet," said a Walmart spokesperson. "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."
It's likely the Federal Aviation Administration will approve Walmart's request – it's given out a couple thousand of these commercial drone exemptions over the past few years. Amazon got theirs back in March.
But these testing permissions come with a lot of restrictions – like when, where, how high, and who can man said drones. A few months ago, Amazon pushed for a sort of air traffic control system for drones, so that they can be operated without line-of-sight. Both NASA and Google have also suggested that a high-speed drone highway, about 200 to 400 feet up, is the way to go.
It's just a matter of time before the skies are filled with drones delivering new iPhones, makeup, and pizza. Regulators are surely moving too slowly for the likes of companies like Amazon and now, Walmart – but it's going to happen eventually.
And customers want drone delivery, and they're willing to pay for it.