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Walmart Doubles Down on Drone Delivery, Distribution Center Robotics

Walmart is expanding its drone delivery network with DroneUp to reach 4 million U.S. households.

Walmart is expanding its deals with two tech partners, upping the ante in delivery and warehouse automation. DroneUp will broaden its drone delivery network to 34 sites, allowing Walmart to reach upwards of 4 million customers; and Symbotic robotics will be implemented at all 42 of Walmart’s regional distribution centers (DCs), up from the previous commitment of 25 DCs.  

Drone Delivery Capacity to Expand to 1M Packages a Year

Under the expanded partnership with DroneUp, 4 million households across Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah and Virginia will now be within Walmart’s drone delivery area, and the retailer will have the capacity to delivery over 1 million packages a year by drone.

From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Walmart customers in a DroneUp service area now have the ability to order from tens of thousands of eligible items for delivery by air in as little as 30 minutes. The service costs $3.99 and orders must weigh 10 pounds or less. Once a customer places an order, the item is fulfilled from the store, packaged, loaded into the drone and delivered to their yard using a cable that gently lowers the package. Participating Walmart stores are equipped with a DroneUp delivery hub staffed by a team of certified pilots to safely manage flight operations.

Walmart has been piloting the DroneUp program over the last year, according to a blog post by David Guggina, SVP of Innovation and Automation at Walmart U.S. “After completing hundreds of deliveries within a matter of months across our existing DroneUp hubs, we’ve seen firsthand how drones can offer customers a practical solution for getting certain items fast,” he said. “More importantly, we’ve seen a positive response from our customers that have used the service. In fact, while we initially thought customers would use the service for emergency items, we’re finding they use it for its sheer convenience, like a quick fix for a weeknight meal. Case in point: The top-selling item at one of our current hubs is Hamburger Helper.”

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Guggina said DroneUp’s services will also be made available to local businesses and municipalities looking to explore the benefits of drones for activities such as insurance, emergency response and real estate. As an example, Guggina said a local construction agency could work with DroneUp to monitor on-site job progress through aerial drone photography. Revenue from these third-party operations will help Walmart offset the cost of delivery to its customers and help the drone industry by gathering additional flight data to aid safe expansion.

Robotics Expansion will Increase Speed and Accuracy at DCs

Symbotics robotic fulfillment solution will roll out at all 42 of Walmart's distribution centers in the U.S.

Walmart has also expanded its existing partnership with supply chain technology company Symbotic to roll out the company’s platform at all 42 of its regional distribution centers. Walmart has already begun embedding Symbotic’s technology across its network under a previous agreement that included 25 regional DCs. The retrofitting of all 42 DCs is expected to be completed over the next 8+ years.

Symbotic’s software-enabled, high-density robotics platform automates the creation of department-sorted inventory palettes, allowing Walmart to respond more quickly to store orders, increase inventory accuracy and expand capacity for receiving and shipping freight to stores. New jobs supported by the tech expansion will include cell operators and maintenance technicians.

The need for accuracy and speed in the supply chain has never been more visible, and we’re confident that now is the time to move even faster by scaling Symbotic’s technology to our entire regional distribution center network,” said Guggina in a statement. “Using high-speed robotics and intelligent software to organize and optimize inventory, the Symbotic system helps us get products to our customers quickly and seamlessly by revolutionizing how we receive and distribute products to stores.”

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