Walmart tests cloud-controlled delivery drones by Flytrex

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, the retail giant on Wednesday said it would start testing cloud-controlled drone deliveries of select grocery and household items. The program kicks off today in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and items will be flown from local stores to shoppers’ doorsteps.

The program employs third-party Flytrex, an end-to-end drone delivery firm with proprietary cloud technology. According to Walmart, Flytrex will be controlled using a “smart and easy” dashboard and will offer “valuable insight” into how contactless, on-demand delivery might work in the future.

“We know that it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone,” Walmart customer product executive Tom Ward wrote in a blog post. “That still feels like a bit of science fiction, but we’re at a point where we’re learning more and more about the technology that is available and how we can use it to make our customers’ lives easier.”

Walmart has seen a sales boom during the coronavirus pandemic, with online sales nearly doubling in the last quarter and same-store sales surging by 9%.

And its drone announcement comes just weeks after competitor Amazon received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate its own drone deliveries through its Prime Air division. The two companies are longtime rivals for retail dominance, with the stakes heightened by the coronavirus pandemic in the last six months as consumers stocked up on bulk goods and nonessential stores shut down.

The battle for the skies adds a new arena to their ongoing war. In the last few years, Amazon expanded into Walmart’s territory by rolling out several brick-and-mortar locations, and next week, Walmart will launch its Walmart Plus membership service, which is akin to Amazon Prime.

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