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DronesE-commerce & FulfillmentLast-mile deliveryModern ShipperNewsTechnology

Walmart to begin drone delivery pilot this summer

Retailer will work with Zipline International to deliver goods from its Pea Ridge, Arkansas, store

Walmart (NYSE: WMT) customers along the Arkansas and Missouri state line will soon be able to receive their e-commerce orders via drone delivery. The retailer and drone provider Zipline International have announced that a pilot program operating out of Walmart’s Pea Ridge, Arkansas, store will begin this summer.

“This is going to be the beta test site,” Pea Ridge Mayor Jackie Crabtree told the Joplin Globe in an interview this week. “It’s the first one in the country.”

Reached by FreightWaves, a Walmart spokesperson didn’t offer any new details on the project or a timeline but pointed to a blog post, published on Sept. 14, 2020, that outlined the retailer’s work with Zipline. The mayor’s comments are the first known acknowledgement of when the pilot will begin.

Crabtree told the Globe deliveries would be mostly medical supplies, and at its peak, the service could be making as many as 15 deliveries per day.

In the September blog post, Tom Ward, senior vice president of customer product for Walmart, wrote that the Zipline drone would service a 50-mile radius and could make deliveries in under an hour.

“As we continue to build upon the foundation of innovation laid for us by Mr. Sam [Walton], we’ll never stop looking into and learning about what the next best technology is and how we can use it to better serve our customers now and into the future,” Ward wrote.

Zipline was founded in 2014 and initially delivered on-demand medical supplies in Rwanda beginning in 2016. The company has made more than 200,000 deliveries since then, Ward noted.

Zipline’s drone, which is a fixed-wing aircraft with a 10-foot wingspan, has a cruising speed of 60 miles per hour with a payload capacity of about 4 pounds. It features redundancy on all its major systems, including the motors, power, communications and navigations, the company said.

According to Zipline, the drone launches from a “fulfillment center” with Zipline acting as a third-party logistics provider. The client prepares the packages and delivers them to the Zipline center. Zipline staff then arranges delivery of the package with the end customer, loads the packages onto the drone and makes the delivery.

The drone itself collects wind data in real time and adjusts deliveries accordingly. The drone releases the packages with a small parachute above the predetermined delivery point.

The exact process for Walmart’s Pea Ridge deliveries has not been released. Crabtree city officials have approved construction of a drone delivery hub on the northwest side of the city for the pilot.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Brian Straight.

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Brian Straight, managing editor, Modern Shipper

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and fleetowner.com. Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at bstraight@freightwaves.com.

4 Comments

  1. Have to imagine that this is more about publicity then a process that will have any sort of widespread application. As a pilot, I’m probably more in tune than many regarding the airspace regulations/issues such a service will face. Also. are the drones going to simply drop packages in front yards – where they will be subject to weather damage and theft? What about city/multi-unit building deliveries? How will the drones get under the tree canopies along streets/homes in MANY communities? Then there is the whole payload weight and bulk capacity issue of transporting by air and the cost of maintaining a fleet of these drones that would likely have a very limited runtime/range. Bottom line, it sounds cool but I wouldn’t invest heavily in a company that thinks this is really going to take-off (pardon the pun).

    1. I have seen the inner workings of Zipline, I myself am a licensed pilot. Even if their tech wasn’t already antiquated, there is no feasible way for them to scale and they all know this. This start up just wants to get bought and absorbed. Its deplorable how they tried to get everyone to drink the humanitarian koolaid buy delivering medical supplies to third world countries, when in reality they were just exploited locals, and leaving them to work around dangerous equipment since the local regulations were abysmal. The payload will only work for small/lightweight and expensive items. they will never be able to deliver in the majority of residential/suburban developments because the fixed wing can’t stay stationary and has to parachute the payload, at speed, and then you have the wind. A quad can hold position and land, or hold position and get a feeling for wind direction and speed while holding position and be smarter about when and where to drop a parachute if need be.

  2. I have seen the inner workings of Zipline, I myself am a licensed pilot. Even if their tech wasn’t already antiquated, there is no feasible way for them to scale and they all know this. This start up just wants to get bought and absorbed. Its deplorable how they tried to get everyone to drink the humanitarian koolaid buy delivering medical supplies to third world countries, when in reality they were just exploited locals, and leaving them to work around dangerous equipment since the local regulations were abysmal. The payload will only work for small/lightweight and expensive items. they will never be able to deliver in the majority of residential/suburban developments because the fixed wing can’t stay stationary and has to parachute the payload, at speed, and then you have the wind. A quad can hold position and land, or hold position and get a feeling for wind direction and speed while holding position and be smarter about when and where to drop a parachute if need be.

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