Chicago—Oct. 27, 2015—Wal-Mart Stores Inc. applied to U.S. regulators for permission to test drones for home delivery, curbside pickup and checking warehouse inventories, a sign it plans to go head to head with Amazon in using drones to fill and deliver online orders.
The world's largest retailer by revenue has for several months been conducting indoor tests of small unmanned aircraft systems—the term regulators use for drones—and is now seeking for the first time to test the machines outdoors. It plans to use drones manufactured by China's SZ DJI Technology Co. Ltd.
In addition to having drones take inventory of trailers outside its warehouses and perform other tasks aimed at making its distribution system more efficient, Wal-Mart is asking the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for permission to research drone use in "deliveries to customers at Walmart facilities, as well as to consumer homes," according to a copy of the application reviewed by Reuters.
The move comes as Amazon.com Inc., Google and other companies test drones in the expectation that the FAA will soon establish rules for their widespread commercial use. FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker said in June that the agency expected to finalize regulations within the next 12 months, faster than previously planned. Commercial drone use is currently illegal, though companies can apply for exemptions.
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