Walmart partners Zipline on drone-delivery trial

  • September 23, 2020
  • Steve Rogerson

Walmart is teaming up with California-based Zipline to launch a drone delivery operation in the USA. The service will make on-demand deliveries of select health and wellness products with the potential to expand to general merchandise.

Trial deliveries will take place near Walmart’s headquarters in north-west Arkansas using Zipline’s proprietary technology.

Zipline will operate from a Walmart store and can service an 80km radius, which is about the size of the state of Connecticut. This will allow for on-demand delivery in under an hour, and eliminate carbon emissions, which lines up with Walmart’s sustainability goals.

“The operation will likely begin early next year, and, if successful, we’ll look to expand,” said Tom Ward, senior vice president at Walmart.

Zipline began operating in late 2016 in Rwanda primarily focusing on the on-demand delivery of medical supplies. To date, it has safely delivered more than 200,000 critical medical products to thousands of health facilities serving more than 20 million people across multiple countries.

“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,” said Ward.

The grocer recently announced a pilot operation with drone delivery service Flytrex. This pilot in Fayetteville, North Carolina, focuses on delivering select grocery and household essential items from Walmart stores using automated drones. The drones, which are controlled over the cloud using a smart dashboard, are helping Walmart understand the customer and associate experience, from picking and packing to take-off and delivery.

“We know that it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone,” said Ward. “That still feels like a bit of science fiction, but we’re at a point where we’re learning more and more about the technology that is available and how we can use it to make our customers’ lives easier. Take for example our autonomous vehicle work with Gatik, Ford and Nuro. We’ve gained loads of valuable insight into how autonomous vehicles fit within our business.”