Walmart wants to bring drone deliveries to Arkansas early next year

Zipline drone package drop

A Zipline drone drops a test package over a test site on a ranch in Northern California.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Just a few days after announcing a new drone delivery program in North Carolina, Walmart is at it again. The company on Monday said it’s working with Zipline to test deliveries of health and wellness supplies in Arkansas, near its Bentonville headquarters.

The new trial comes after Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, teamed up with another drone operator, Flytrex, to do deliveries in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Zipline started operating in 2016, helping deliver medical supplies in Rwanda.

The Zipline project is slated to start early next year and may eventually include general merchandise deliveries too. If the program is successful, Walmart will look to expand it, Tom Ward, Walmart’s senior vice president of customer product, said in a statement Monday.

These two new pilot projects, though small to start with, show that Walmart is looking to become a more significant player in drone deliveries, alongside companies including Alphabet, Amazon and UPS. There’s still a lot of regulatory work to make drone deliveries a mainstream service, and Walmart’s increased interest — though encouraging for the drone industry — isn’t likely to speed up that process.

The Arkansas program could be especially useful during the coronavirus pandemic to help people get the items they need quickly and without having to visit stores. The few drone and robot-powered services that are currently available in the US are already seeing spikes in demand during the health crisis.

Ward said the Arkansas deliveries can serve a 50-mile radius and will arrive in less than an hour. UPS in November announced a similar test run, using a Matternet drone to deliver medical prescriptions from a CVS to two locations in North Carolina.

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