US retailing giant Wal-Mart has applied to regulators for permission to test drones for home delivery, curbside pickup and warehouse inventory checking purposes, indicating that it plans to compete with Amazon's plans to deliver online orders using the airborne robots.
Wal-Mart is the world's largest retailer by revenue, and has already been conducting small unmanned aircraft tests indoors for several months, according to Reuters. By applying for outdoor testing permission from US regulators, it has indicated that it is far into the process of preparing for drone delivery, and fairly confident about its abilities so far.
Wal-Mart's plans include using drones to take inventory of trailers located outside its warehouse and perform a variety of other tasks aimed at making its distribution infrastructure more efficient. However, the most interesting development is its plans to research drone use in delivering products to consumers, as well as transporting them between Walmart facilities.
"Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centres, fulfillment centres and transportation fleet," said Dan Toporek, spokesperson for Wal-Mart. "There is a Walmart within five miles of 70 per cent of the US population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones."
The company's request comes as Amazon, Google and others are actively testing drones, with many expecting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to soon establish codified rules for widespread commercial use of drones. In June, Michael Whitaker, deputy administrator at the FAA, said that the agency planned to finalise regulations within the next 12 months. Presently, commercial drone use is illegal, although firms can apply for exemptions.