Walmart (NYSE: WMT) customers along the Arkansas and Missouri state line will soon be able to receive their e-commerce orders via drone delivery. The retailer and drone provider Zipline International have announced that a pilot program operating out of Walmart’s Pea Ridge, Arkansas, store will begin this summer.
“This is going to be the beta test site,” Pea Ridge Mayor Jackie Crabtree told the Joplin Globe in an interview this week. “It’s the first one in the country.”
Reached by FreightWaves, a Walmart spokesperson didn’t offer any new details on the project or a timeline but pointed to a blog post, published on Sept. 14, 2020, that outlined the retailer’s work with Zipline. The mayor’s comments are the first known acknowledgement of when the pilot will begin.
Crabtree told the Globe deliveries would be mostly medical supplies, and at its peak, the service could be making as many as 15 deliveries per day.
In the September blog post, Tom Ward, senior vice president of customer product for Walmart, wrote that the Zipline drone would service a 50-mile radius and could make deliveries in under an hour.
“As we continue to build upon the foundation of innovation laid for us by Mr. Sam [Walton], we’ll never stop looking into and learning about what the next best technology is and how we can use it to better serve our customers now and into the future,” Ward wrote.
Zipline was founded in 2014 and initially delivered on-demand medical supplies in Rwanda beginning in 2016. The company has made more than 200,000 deliveries since then, Ward noted.
Zipline’s drone, which is a fixed-wing aircraft with a 10-foot wingspan, has a cruising speed of 60 miles per hour with a payload capacity of about 4 pounds. It features redundancy on all its major systems, including the motors, power, communications and navigations, the company said.
According to Zipline, the drone launches from a “fulfillment center” with Zipline acting as a third-party logistics provider. The client prepares the packages and delivers them to the Zipline center. Zipline staff then arranges delivery of the package with the end customer, loads the packages onto the drone and makes the delivery.
The drone itself collects wind data in real time and adjusts deliveries accordingly. The drone releases the packages with a small parachute above the predetermined delivery point.
The exact process for Walmart’s Pea Ridge deliveries has not been released. Crabtree city officials have approved construction of a drone delivery hub on the northwest side of the city for the pilot.
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