Millions of Americans will have access to drone delivery this year thanks to a major expansion of the service Walmart launched in partnership with DroneUp.
The two companies announced on Tuesday a drone delivery service expansion in six states and 34 sites, bringing aerial delivery of thousands of Walmart (NYSE: WMT) items to customers within 30 minutes. Walmart said that expansion will cover approximately 4 million Americans.
“After completing hundreds of deliveries within a matter of months across our existing DroneUp hubs, we’ve seen firsthand how drones can offer customers a practical solution for getting certain items, fast,” David Guggina, senior vice president of innovation and automation at Walmart U.S., wrote in a blog post announcing the expansion. “More importantly, we’ve seen a positive response from our customers that have used the service. In fact, while we initially thought customers would use the service for emergency items, we’re finding they use it for its sheer convenience, like a quick fix for a weeknight meal.”
Guggina said the most popular item ordered via drone has been Hamburger Helper, suggesting people are using the service to fulfill last-minute needs.
“This investment in DroneUp, and the expansion of our hubs throughout the country means that Walmart customers are finding drone delivery to be a quick, convenient and safe method of getting what they need straight to their doorsteps,” Tom Walker, DroneUp CEO, told Modern Shipper. “Walmart is always looking to technological advancements that give customers the best, most sustainable offerings available, which includes innovative solutions like drones.”
Walker noted that the commitment from Walmart is both an indication of the retailer’s belief in drone delivery, and specifically in DroneUp.
“When the biggest retailer in the world says they believe in drone delivery services and see your company is the best in class to partner with on such a huge endeavor, it’s telling of DroneUp’s product and service capabilities, and it paves the way for positive leaps forward for the entire UAS industry,” he said.
DroneUp is currently operating two hubs in Bentonville and Farmington, Arkansas. The new hubs, which will add 32 locations in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah and Virginia by year’s end, will bring the capacity to deliver up to 1 million packages within a year’s time, Guggina wrote. Walker noted that Walmart has 4,700 stores with more than 100,000 of the “most purchased items” within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population, providing plenty of opportunity in the future.
Walker previously told Modern Shipper that DroneUp expects to be able to fulfill deliveries within 10 miles by 2023. Currently it is 1.5 miles. Average delivery time is 17 minutes from the time the order is placed to delivery.
Guggina wrote that typically ordered items include Tylenol, diapers and hot dog buns. The new locations will feature a DroneUp team of certified pilots.
Walker said the locations chosen will meet a variety of factors, including store proximity to end customers, weather and geographical conditions that make drone delivery successful.
Watch: The future of drone delivery
“These are also locations where drone technology services can support multiple industries from our hubs such as insurance, construction, utilities, commercial real estate, maritime and more,” Walker added.
In fact, the drone deployments will offer more than just drone delivery. Walmart said residents will be able to leverage the drones to provide additional community benefits.
“This means DroneUp will offer local businesses and municipalities aerial drone solutions in areas like insurance, emergency response and real estate. For example, a local construction agency can work with DroneUp to monitor on-site job progress through aerial drone photography,” Guggina wrote. “Not only will the added revenue help offset the cost of delivery, but it also serves the entire drone industry by gathering more flight data as we work together to expand drone operations in a safe and regulated way.”
Walker said drones are able to offer services to a diverse group of industries, and this expansion will offer the opportunity to showcase multiple use cases of drones and drone infrastructure.
“DroneUp has years of experience using its drone technology services to help a range of industries such as commercial real estate, construction and more, especially during these times of labor shortage and/or on more precarious job sites where it’s unsafe for humans,” Walker said. “These additional partnership opportunities are outside of Walmart delivery services.”
Walmart said the cost for drone delivery is $3.99 and each drone can carry items totaling 10 pounds.
“So, simply put, if it fits safely it flies,” Guggina said.