Walmart announced in June 2021 that it was making a major investment in the drone industry, putting an undisclosed sum of money into drone service provider DroneUp. It’s been nearly six months since then, and it turns out, the drone delivery partnership has delivered. The latest updates in the Walmart DroneUp investment news are pretty darn good.
For starters, drone flights out of physical Walmart stores are already happening, with the first operation having occurred at a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Farmington, Arkansas. And now, the cadence of commercial drone delivery operations is growing, as Walmart announced in November that DroneUp would launch three full-time “hubs” for on-demand delivery operations.
The three hubs are all located at Walmart stores in Northwest Arkansas and will operate between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., seven days per week to bring items to eligible Walmart customers by air in as little as 30 minutes.
“When we invested in DroneUp earlier this year, we envisioned a drone delivery operation that could be quickly executed and replicated across multiple stores,” said Tom Ward, senior vice president of last-mile at Walmart U.S., in a prepared statement. “Opening our first hub within months of our initial concept showcases DroneUp’s ability to safely execute drone delivery operations with speed. We’re already hearing great customer feedback at our first site in Farmington, Arkansas, and look forward to opening additional locations.”
How the Walmart drone delivery tests with DroneUp work
As far as retail drone deliveries go, this one is pretty straightforward.
- To place an order, you must first be an eligible customer who lives in Farmington, Arkansas. Visit DroneUp’s website to enter your address to verify eligibility.
- Then, go to the DroneUp delivery website at droneupdelivery.com to place your order.
- You can choose from thousands of items (most are lighter, small items).
- An operator packs your order in a box which is secured to the drone.
- The drone flies to your home via a controlled and guided delivery, dropping the item via a patented delivery release mechanism.
For now, the deliveries are available to eligible customers in Farmington, Arkansas. But DroneUp said additional locations at a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Rogers, Arkansas and a Walmart Supercenter in Bentonville will open in the coming months.
Walmart’s position in the drone delivery world
While Amazon’s in-house drone delivery team has faced many challenges including layoffs, Walmart is leaning into drone delivery through partnerships as seen through examples like this Walmart DroneUp investment.
Partnering with Zipline
DroneUp isn’t the only external drone delivery partner that Walmart is turning too. Separately, Walmart is partnering with California-based Zipline to test drone deliveries with a select group of customers in Pea Ridge, Arkansas. For that test, residents of the small town will be able to receive primarily medically-oriented products via drone within 15-30 minutes.
Zipline says that the Pea Ridge product demonstrates its power in delivering necessary goods to hard-to-reach, rural communities and to at-risk populations like elderly customers.
In Zipline’s test, which utilizes fixed-wing drones (as opposed to DroneUp’s quadcopter style), drones take off and land via 25-foot platform located directly behind the Pea Ridge Walmart Neighborhood Market.
Past work with DroneUp
And while this particular Arkansas test is new, the two companies had worked together even prior to the Walmart DroneUp investment deal. In the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Walmart and DroneUp operated trial deliveries of at-home COVID-19 self-collection kits in the North Las Vegas-area. That short-lived trial was available to residents of single-family homes located within a 1-mile radius of the North Las Vegas Walmart.
For its part, Walmart says that it is particularl well-positioned to be the drone delivery leader given the significant amount of infrastructure already in place. The company already operates more than 4,700 stores (which are located within 10 miles of over 90 percent of the U.S. population) that are stocked with thousands of household items, so it’s well positioned to use drones to make those last-mile deliveries by flying out from the stores themselves.
What to know about DroneUp
DroneUp, which is headquartered in Virginia Beach, was founded in 2016 initially as a database of more than 10,000, Part 107-certified FAA pilots. It has since focused largely on running drone delivery projects, and has been a leader in the space, with recognition including being the first operator to use the FAA 107.39 waiver, which allows for delivery flights to be conducted over people and moving vehicles. It’s also a leader in Washington, with positions in prominent spaces including holding a spot on the FAA’s Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Aviation Rule Making Committee, where it helps to develop rule and standards around beyond line of sight drone flights.