You order an item from Walmart. It goes from a central warehouse to a local distribution center, typically via a diesel-powered truck. From there, it goes into another diesel-powered truck and gets delivered to your door. That means there are a lot of carbon emissions associated with getting that package to you. Not only that, but Walmart has to pay the salaries of the people who drive those trucks and deliver those packages. It also has to buy the trucks and the fuel to operate them, as well as cover maintenance costs.
But now Walmart says it will be delivering packages that weigh 10 pounds or less to customers in certain parts of Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah, and Virginia by drones that lower the packages to the ground via a cable. The service will be provided in cooperation with DroneUp and should begin before the end of this year. The company says as many as 1 million packages could be delivered by drone each year at a cost of $3.99 each. There are 4 million people living within the parts of the US where drone delivery is available. It will be the largest drone delivery service in America when it begins.
According to The Guardian, Walmart hasn’t released any details of its drone delivery system, such as how squadrons of drones would operate in newly congested airspace or how potential conflicts with other drone operators would be resolved. Some argue that drone delivery will be more energy efficient than using trucks powered by fossil fuel and will also help reduce urban air pollution.
Many cities around the world now allow robot delivery vehicles guided by human handlers to use sidewalks to deliver food and supplies as an example of “last-mile logistics,” mostly for fresh food delivery. But Walmart’s drone project significantly expands the range of products that could be dropped by air. The company said it will offer up to 100,000 different products from a variety of categories, from detergents to batteries to snacks.
Walmart is being challenged by Amazon, but believes it has an edge because of the number of physical stores it operates. 90% of all Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart store. Customer orders will be packaged at the stores, then flown by a drone to a front yard or driveway, where they will be lowered to the ground using a cable. In early drone delivery tests, the company says customers didn’t consider drone delivery to be just for emergency supplies like medicine or Covid test kits. In fact, the top delivery item in one location was Hamburger Helper.
Walmart has a few locations near its headquarters in Arkansas where drone deliveries are already taking place. Even when this new program kicks off later this year, only 37 stores will be be included — less than 1% of all the stores in its chain of retail establishments. No doubt if the drone delivery process is successful, it will be expanded to other Walmart stores as well.
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