Walmart Is Now Offering Drone Delivery. Here's What That Means

A futuristic form of airborne technology will soon make ordering groceries and essentials from Walmart a very different experience for millions of Americans. 

In a press release, the world's largest retailer (via NRF) announced a major expansion of its drone delivery operation, which will open up the high-tech service to more than 4 million American households. Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, are robotic aircraft that are flown via remote control or pre-programmed software (via Tech Target).

In recent years, drone delivery services have been on the rise, offering a contact-free way to get your Chipotle or pizza delivery dropped right at your door. Walmart's largest competitor, Amazon, has been experimenting with drone-assisted delivery since 2013; however, logistical and safety issues, including numerous delivery drone crashes, have prevented the retail juggernaut from substantially expanding the robotic delivery service (via The Verge).

Although increasing numbers of retailers and foodservice providers have begun dipping their toes into the drone delivery space, regulatory restrictions have largely prevented package-yielding drones from clogging up the skies (via New York Times). Still, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, drones are the "fastest-growing segment in the entire transportation sector," to the tune of 1.7 million+ drone registrations as of early 2021. 

Walmart Drone delivery will soon be available in six states

Walmart's widespread expansion of its unmanned delivery operation could mark a major turning point for delivery drone usage in the United States. According to the press release, the retailer is currently working with DroneUp — a nationwide drone service provider that Walmart invested in last year — to offer the futuristic form of delivery in six states: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.

Walmart says it is gearing up to expand the number of DroneUp delivery sites to 34 by the end of 2022, which will enable the company to transport upwards of 1 million packages via drone in the coming months. The service, which launched with a single Arkansas-based site in November 2021, will soon be available to millions of households across the country (via The Verge).

"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," the company said in a press release. "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."

Drone delivery will be available for products under 10 pounds

According to the retailer, the current best-selling item being distributed through one of the DroneUp hubs is Hamburger Helper (via Walmart). Customers within the delivery radius of a participating Walmart store will be able to place DroneUp orders for a delivery fee of $3.99 from the hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Each drone can hold a maximum of 10 pounds of products from a selection of eligible items sold at Walmart stores. Once the delivery drone — which is virtually operated by a certified drone pilot — arrives at the customer's door, it uses a cable to carefully lower the package for delivery.

While it's unclear how enthusiastically Walmart's customer base will embrace the futuristic technology, the retailer's rapid expansion of drone delivery could mark a sophisticated new era in grocery shopping in which leaving home for essentials is entirely optional.