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Walmart applies for permission to test delivery drones

Walmart sign

The owner of Asda has applied to regulators for permission to test drones for home delivery, in a sign it plans to go head-to-head with Amazon in using unmanned aircraft to deliver online orders.

WalMart, the world's largest retailer by revenue, has for several months been conducting indoor tests of 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.

WalMart is asking the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 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.

In addition, it also plans to use the aircraft to take inventory of trucks outside its warehouses and perform other tasks aimed at making its distribution system more efficient.

The move comes as Amazon, Google and other companies test drones in the expectation that the FAA will soon establish rules for their widespread commercial use. FAA deputy administrator Michael Whitaker said in June that the agency expected to finalize regulations within the next 12 months, faster than previously planned. The FAA has not set rules yet that would allow for the commercial use of drones.

Amazon has said it would be ready to begin delivering packages to customers via drones as soon as federal rules allow.

WalMart spokesman Dan Toporek said the company would move quickly to deploy drones depending on its tests and regulations.

"Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centers, fulfillment centers and transportation fleet," he said. "There is a Walmart within five miles of 70pc of the US population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones."

Finding ways to more efficiently warehouse, transport and deliver goods to customers has taken on new importance for WalMart, which this month projected a surprise decline in earnings next year as it copes with costs to increase wages, beat back price competition and boost online sales.

In the FAA application, WalMart said it wanted to test drones for taking stock of trucks and other items in the parking lot of a warehouse using electronic tagging and other methods. A WalMart distribution centre could have hundreds of vehicles waiting in its yard, and a drone could potentially be used to quickly account for what each one is holding.

The retailer also wants to test drones for its grocery pick-up service, which it has recently expanded to 23 markets, with plans to add another 20 markets next year. 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 stated.

WalMart 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 said.

Source : The Telegraph
www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/11956595/Asda-owner-seeks-permission-to-test-delivery-drones.html

27 October 2015

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