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Walmart expands drone delivery testing with Zipline partnership

Walmart and drone delivery pioneer Zipline have partnered to begin trials of drone delivery in Arkansas. It’s a sign, were one needed, that the retail giant is committed to using some form of drone delivery in the future.

Delivery by drone is an appealing option for retailers. If the product is an appropriate size and weight, it’s simply the fastest way to get something – at least in most instances – from A to B. Alphabet’s WING, for example, can deliver a cup of coffee while it’s still hot. Plus, there are places drones can reach that involve terrain or ground conditions that would stall traditional delivery methods. And while deliveries of critical items like prescription medications or vaccines would seem like the perhaps the most important use-case, there’s a ton of interest from the retail side. (Hey – just wait until Amazon Prime Air starts spreading its wings down the road.)

Walmart has already started grabbing a piece of this territory. Specifically, it has just launched a program testing drone deliveries in North Carolina using a company called Flytrex. And now, Walmart has announced a new phase in testing.

Zipline

The drone company? Zipline.

You’ve likely heard of Zipline. It created quite a name for itself with innovative and important deliveries of medical supplies in Rwanda, a country that’s a prime example of ground transport challenges. The winding, often poorly-maintained roads in that central African country make ground deliveries an arduous process. But delivering by air can shave hours (perhaps days?) off of delivery time. Medications, blood, plasma – supplies that can mean the difference between life and death – are dispatched daily using Zipline’s fixed-wing, electric drones. These drones drop their deliveries from just outside hospitals and clinics, where it drifts to the ground by parachute.

Keller Rinaudo beside an early Zipline prototype

By Akrasia25 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85961213

Created by Keller Rinaudo, Zipline has a lot of street cred. It has created a seamless system for launch, delivery, and capture. Using a pneumatic launcher and fleet software, Zipline has perfected a system that looks like a low-friction assembly line. This video does a great job of explaining how the system works:

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That’s one slick system

Walmart

With the announcement made September 14, clearly this deal had been in the works for some time. It was revealed publicly with a news post by Walmart’s senior Vice-President of Customer Product, Tom Ward:

“…not only does their launch and release system allow for quick on-demand delivery in under an hour, but it also eliminates carbon emissions, which lines up perfectly with our sustainability goals. The operation will likely begin early next year, and, if successful, we’ll look to expand. Zipline, which operates the world’s largest drone delivery network, began operating in late 2016 in Rwanda primarily focusing on the on-demand delivery of medical supplies. To date, they’ve safely delivered more than 200,000 critical medical products to thousands of health facilities serving more than 20 million people across multiple countries. This uniquely positions them for national-scale operations across the United States.

Tom Ward, Walmart’s VP, Customer Product

Walmart Zipline GIF
Launch, Deliver, Repeat: Zipline and Walmart partner up…

Focus

The post by Tom Ward says the trial deliveries will take place from a site near Walmart’s headquarters in northwest Arkansas.

Walmart Feature
Okay, Walmart. We made this change first. Call us if you want to use it. 😉

It also says that Zipline can operate up to a 50-mile radius from any Walmart store, effectively giving it the potential to deliver within an area equal to the entire state of Connecticut from any given store.

Thoughts?

Whaddaya think? Do you want drone delivery in your neighborhood? Give us the pros and cons in the comments!

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