Walmart is expanding its drone delivery program from one pocket of the Dallas-Fort Worth area to millions of people in 30 municipalities in the region, CEO Doug McMillon announced Tuesday at CES 2024.
The retailer will use drone delivery systems operated by startup Zipline and by Alphabet subsidiary Wing, companies that have made hundreds of thousands of deliveries in recent years. They each recently obtained clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly their drones beyond visual line of sight, aka BVLOS — in other words, out of the eyesight of a human operator — which makes large-scale drone delivery operations more practical and economical.
Delivery drones offer fast service, with Walmart packages arriving between 10 and 30 minutes after an order is placed from stores up to 10 miles away. Walmart touts the technology for people who need missing cooking ingredients, last-second birthday gifts, over-the-counter medications or movie night snacks.
Drone delivery is a potentially revolutionary technology for when people need relatively small packages swiftly. It’s not economical in rural areas, and finding a place to deliver a package can be tough in dense cities, but expect it to spread across the suburbs as retailers seek a technology that satisfies consumer spending urges while keeping delivery trucks off the road. That can, in principle, ease traffic congestion and lower the carbon footprint of deliveries.
People like the technology, with regular customers placing an average of two orders per week and the more enthusiastic averaging three orders per week, Walmart said.
Drone delivery noise has been a concern, but both Wing and Zipline keep their deliveries quiet by keeping drones high in the sky and lowering or dropping packages. Zipline is testing a new drone design with Walmart that can plop a package onto a table or walkway.
Customers can order over the web by visiting wing.com/Walmart or flyzipline.com/get-delivery. Wing and Zipline have already been Walmart partners in testing drone delivery programs. Zipline has made more than 900,000 deliveries worldwide.