Walmart Joins the Drone Generation

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It applies for a flight exemption from the FAA, intending to use drones to monitor its distribution network as well as to deliver packages.

Walmart applied to the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday for exemption from rules governing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), making it the most prominent retailer after Amazon to begin assembling its own drone delivery force. Exemptions from the rules allow UAS operators to begin testing their aircraft.

“This shows the effect that consumer expectations can have on closing the gap between online commerce and brick-and-mortar stores as far as how fast they can get merchandise in their hands,” commented Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Commerce, which operates FreeShipping.com. “I once read that 70 percent of the U.S. population lives within five miles of a Walmart store, so drone delivery is not as strategic for them as it is for Amazon.”

But Walmart plans to do double duty with its drones, using them to take inventory of trailers outside of warehouses and improve efficiencies in its distribution system, according to a report from Reuters, which obtained a copy of Walmart's FAA application. “It looks like Walmart's motivation is more about optimization of its core business, and then to test deliveries in certain areas,” Caporaso said.

After dealing with objections from pilots associations, the FAA granted Amazon its exemption in April. It cleared the online retailer to test drones weighing less than 55 pounds and not exceeding speeds of 100 miles per hour. Their maximum altitude cannot exceed 400 feet and they must remain within unaided eyesight of a human controller.

At a NASA conference on UAS issues in July, Guy Kimchi, the director of Amazon's drone project, presented a plan that would designate a no-fly zone for other aircrafts that would allow commercial drones to operate between altitudes of 400 and 500 feet.

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