The Ongoing Delivery Wars—Walmart Invests in DroneUp to Offer On-Demand Drone Delivery

BY Zacc Dukowitz
24 June 2021

Walmart recently announced an investment in DroneUp for on-demand drone delivery.

Photo credit: Walmart

The investment follows a year of trials in which Walmart partnered with DroneUp to deliver at-home COVID-19 self-collection kits.

The trial demonstrated we could offer customers delivery in minutes versus hours. Now, after safely completing hundreds of drone deliveries from Walmart stores, we’re making an investment in DroneUp to continue our work toward developing a scalable last-mile delivery solution.

– John Furner, CEO of Walmart

While the initial tests were limited to COVID-19 kits, Walmart has its eyes set on much bigger, broader drone delivery efforts.

The investment will allow Walmart to tap into DroneUp’s existing on-demand drone delivery network, which matches a database of over 10,000 commercial drone pilots located throughout the U.S.

According to a recent statement Walmart has “4,700 stores stocked with more than 100,000 of the most-purchased items, located within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population.” In other words, it has a massive infrastructure already in place to enable on-demand delivery.

This infrastructure, combined with DroneUp’s team of pilots, could make them the best-equipped for standing up a nationwide drone delivery effort.

Right now we don’t know much about how Walmart plans to roll out commercial deliveries, but we do know that the first regular drone delivery program will begin within the next few months at one of Walmart’s stores in Bentonville, Arkansas.

No BVLOS Waivers Needed

According to our research, it doesn’t seem like BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) waivers will be a concern for DroneUp’s drone delivery plans.

It appears that at least some—and maybe all—of the on-demand delivery DroneUp will be doing for Walmart will be performed within the bounds of the current Part 107 rules—that is, within the pilot’s visual line of sight (VLOS).

We’re saying this based on an in-depth report DroneUp helped create last year in partnership with Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) and UPS, in which DroneUp performed an exhaustive array of tests for drone delivery.

The report, entitled Operation Last-Mile: Critical Drone Delivery Testing Report, looked closely at what was possible for last-mile delivery with drones under existing rules, with no extra waivers or permissions required.

Image credit: DroneUp

The conclusion? Last mile drone delivery is a safe, practical, and workable solution—right now.

This exercise proved that Part 107 pilots using commercially available drones could successfully and repeatedly deliver 1.275 pound payload packages to 10 foot diameter targets, on 1500 foot round trips under FAA Part 107 rules.

– From Operation Last-Mile: Critical Drone Delivery Testing Report

Although the coverage we’ve read on the report doesn’t explicitly say that drone deliveries were made VLOS, it seems like this must be what is meant by “under FAA Part 107 rules.”

Flytrex has been conducting drone deliveries the same way—under existing Part 107 rules, which is to say, VLOS—for some time now in the U.S.

[Related read: New Study Indicates that Drone Delivery Programs Could Help Boost Public Perception of Drones]

All this being said, DroneUp is very familiar with navigating the FAA’s waiver process. The company was the first to have been granted a 107.39 waiver for flying over people and moving vehicles, and we would assume it is currently pursuing more waivers, if not a Part 135 certification to become a Certified Air Carrier.

So while it seems likely that much of the initial on-demand delivery DroneUp does will be conducted VLOS, the long term plan for DroneUp and Walmart is probably to conduct delivery flights over people and cars while flying BVLOS, as is the case with Wing’s drone delivery program in Christiansburg, Virginia.

The Ongoing Delivery Wars

Walmart has been experimenting with drone partnerships and creating its own drones for some time now.

Photo credit: Walmart

Back in 2019, Walmart filed for 97 drone-related patents over the course of a single year—almost double the amount Amazon had filed for in the same amount of time.

These efforts are all part of the ongoing delivery wars.

In the fight to continue to stay on the cutting edge of delivery, mega retailers like Amazon, Walmart, UPS, and DHL are all investing in drone delivery in an effort to have the quickest solution for last-mile delivery.

And the war isn’t limited to drones.

Walmart has also invested in autonomous vehicle company Cruise, and other retailers are also investing in similar technology, all in an effort to stay afloat when it comes to making the fastest, and maybe one day cheapest, deliveries possible.

Do you think DroneUp will be making deliveries to your home any time soon? Share your thoughts in this thread on the UAV Coach community forum.

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