Walmart is getting into drone deliveries, kicking off a pilot project Wednesday in North Carolina to ship groceries and household items through the air.
The big box retailer teamed up with drone delivery company Flytrex to run the program so it can build up its experience on shipping and packing orders using drones. The announcement comes about a week after Amazon gained approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate its drone delivery program more broadly.
Walmart hasn't been a big player in drones so far, but it's shown interest in the technology, having filed dozens of patents for drones and testing out drones to move around inventory within its warehouses.
The concept of drone or robot delivery has gained traction especially during the coronavirus pandemic, with many customers avoiding going into stores and looking for contactless shopping options. That's already resulted in demand gains for Alphabet's Wing pilot drone project in Virginia and the startup Starship's sidewalk drones.
There's still an enormous amount of regulatory work to be done to make drones mainstream, so customers shouldn't expect to see regular drone deliveries nationwide anytime soon. If drones do start to grow in importance, Walmart will have to catch up to Amazon, Alphabet and UPS, which have all been working on drone delivery concepts already.
The Walmart pilot, which will be in Fayetteville, North Carolina, is the second test program connecting Flytrex and Walmart. In April, Flytrex set up a drone delivery hub by a Walmart in Grand Forks, North Dakota, that can deliver groceries from that store to customers' backyards.
Walmart has also tested out automated car deliveries with the companies Nuro, Ford and Gatik.