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Walmart Tests Drone Deliveries with Zipline and Flytrex

By The Biz Team (Nicholas)

Walmart recently announced a new drone delivery program that will be conducted alongside Zipline, which is a start-up that gained its notoriety for delivery of medical supplies in Africa. America’s largest retailer plans to begin testing on-demand deliveries for health and wellness items. The test flights are going to take off near the Arkansas headquarters and drop off the products provided they are within a 50-mile radius or one hour of the distribution point.

The company is also looking to expand the program should it be successful so it would begin to deliver common merchandise. The test flights for the upcoming project have been scheduled to take off near the Arkansas headquarters of the retailer. Walmart also released a video illustrating Zipline’s plane shape drone as it was launched into the air and it released a package that was dropped onto the front yard of the customer. The fall was eased by an attached parachute. Tom Ward, the senior vice president of customer products indicated in a statement that they are never going to stop researching the next best thing and how they can use the information to provide better service to the customer base. Fortunately, the parachute is biodegradable so it does not need to be returned or disposed of with care. These drones will be able to carry about four pounds and fly at a speed of 80 miles an hour, despite rain and wind.

The development of the project was hastened by the conditions set in 2020 following the spread of the global pandemic. Walmart determined the elderly and others with pre-existing conditions were more at risk of having complications or succumbing if they were exposed to COVID-19. These circumstances have led several retailers to initiate early morning shopping times for the seniors when the stores are less crowded and have been cleaned thoroughly. Similarly, bricks and clicks commerce in which case, the customer’s order the materials online and have the items delivered by a nearby store has assisted traditional grocers to compete with large commerce chains like Amazon.

Founded in 2014, Zipline started operating in 2016, in Rwanda where it focused on-demand delivery for medical supplies. The California based firm was able to deliver at least 200,000 medical items to thousands of health facilities in different states. It also has the largest drone delivery network in the world.

Interestingly, this is not the only partnership that Walmart has initiated recently. They teamed up with Flytrex, a drone company to use their vehicles for the delivery of both grocery and household items. Flytrex has been there since 2013 and its mission statement was catering to individuals within the suburban areas. The company’s website emphasized that urbanites have particular access to shopping and delivery, though the people who live in the suburbs usually live miles away from stores and they may not have as much access as they would want to the home delivery options.

The Flytrex drones have a speed of 32 miles per hour and a cruising level of 230 feet. They also have a capacity of 6.6 pounds. Flytrex drones do not usually have onboard cameras as they navigate with GPS and sensors. Their range is seven miles. Walmart and Flytrex are yet to indicate how long the pilot program is meant to last or whether it is going to be expanded to other areas. However, drone delivery is set to be one of the trends.

Both of the pilot programs Walmart had with Flytrex and Zipline are a response to Amazon’s recent announcement. It won federal approval for the operation of drones for the Prime Air Service. The drone delivery market is only developing so large chains are struggling to consolidate their hold in the market before things solidify. The covid-19 pandemic has only shown how important delivery services will be in the future in scenarios where limited human contact is required. It is going to be interesting though to see which of the two retail giants are going to make the best inroads with the market.

It may be some time before people are going to be able to look up and see drones periodically whizzing about, or see one drop an item on their front lawn. The testing phase is still taxing because several variables need to be accounted for to ensure efficiency and above all, safety.

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