Air delivery startup Flytrex today unveiled a pilot with Walmart to deliver items from the retailer’s stores using drones — the second such pilot Walmart has launched in recent weeks. Beginning in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Flytrex quadcopters controlled through a cloud-based dashboard will pick up, transport, and drop off packages.
The pilot comes as the pandemic motivates shelter-in-place orders around the world, restricting a number of businesses — particularly restaurants — to delivery or pickup options. Drones and autonomous vehicles can limit unnecessary contact between workers, couriers, and customers, potentially helping prevent the spread of infection. For these and other reasons, the number of drones dedicated to ecommerce deliveries is expected to increase to 2.2 million units by 2025, according to a Frost and Sullivan report.
As in Grand Forks, North Carolina, where Flytex is delivering from a Walmart Supercenter, the Fayetteville-based drones will take off across the street from a Walmart location. Customers will use a mobile app to browse an inventory of about 200 items, including diapers, prepackaged deli meat, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, and hamburger buns. Flytrex says orders will be packed by Walmart employees within the store and then brought to a designated launchpad.
During the initial stages of the pilot, the free deliveries will be limited to goods weighing 6.6 pounds or less, and they will only be offered to households that have opted into the service. Flytrex’s drones will make drop-offs directly in backyards via tethers that unreel from 80 feet in the air.
The expanded Flytrex collaboration appears to signal an acceleration of Walmart’s drone delivery efforts as Amazon’s Prime Air gained U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 135 certification last week. (Flytrex’s operations fall under the FAA’s visual line-of-sight rules, meaning they don’t require the same type of approval.) Last year, Walmart filed two patents for systems that would help ensure safe drone delivery and package drop-off, including a landing platform with an automated trap door.
Flytrex’s latest deployment comes after the company’s on-demand drone delivery service debuted in Reykjavik, Iceland. In 2018, Flytrex established its first partnership with Ease Drones, launching drone delivery at King’s Walk Golf Course in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Flytrex was selected by the FAA the following year to participate in its UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) with the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
IPP, which launched in 2017, aims to bring state, local, and tribal governments together with private sector entities, such as drone operators and manufacturers, to test and evaluate the integration of civil and public drone operations with the national airspace system. Other participants include Zipline, which will deliver personal protective equipment (such as masks) around the campuses of the Novant Health medical network in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Matternet, which will make medical deliveries between WakeMed hospital in Raleigh and its Healthplex in Garner in partnership with UPS.