Zipline is partnering with Walmart for a new drone delivery operation in the US, the companies announced. The program is for on-demand deliveries of health and wellness products and will begin in a trial early next year near Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Zipline’s launch and release system allows for on-demand delivery in less than an hour, and operating from a Walmart store, can service a 50-mile radius.
Earlier this year Zipline announced it was partnering with a hospital system in North Carolina to make contactless deliveries of medical supplies and personal protective equipment. And this year wasn’t the first time Zipline’s drones have been used for medical supply deliveries. In 2016, it launched the first national drone delivery system in the world to deliver blood to patients in remote areas of Rwanda.
The company says it’s delivered more than 200,000 critical medical products to health facilities in multiple countries. The partnership with Walmart is the first step toward potential national-scale operations across the US.
The pilot program with Zipline is the latest of Walmart’s moves toward wider drone use. Back in 2015 the retail giant conducted drone delivery tests, and in 2016 experimented with using drones to check warehouse inventory.
And last week, Walmart announced a small pilot program in North Carolina using automated drones from startup Flytrex to deliver “select groceries and household items.” It didn’t provide details about how many drones are involved in that pilot but acknowledged it would be some time before drone deliveries become more widespread.
It will be interesting to see which of the two retail giants hyperfocused on drone deliveries— Walmart and Amazon— makes the quickest inroads. In August, Amazon got approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate as a drone airline in the US, which could mean the beginning of larger commercial operations for the retail behemoth.