delivery man and modern drone
Gualtiero Boffi

Flytrex and Walmart are now weeks into a pilot program that will see the two companies join forces to see whether deliveries by drone can be done in a safe, cost-effective manner. The companies launched the program in Fayetteville, NC and residents can download the Flytrex app to see if their homes make them eligible to participate.

The effort to conduct deliveries by drone has taken on a newfound importance since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which has complicated the delivery process and endangered those serving as integral parts of the delivery process. Amazon reported last week that nearly 20,000 of its front-line workers have caught COVID-19.

In an email interview, Flytrex CEO and co-founder Yariv Bash explained that the pilot program will see their drones deliver select grocery and household essentials such as packaged deli meat, toothpaste, and hand sanitizer.

Bash stressed that drone deliveries may be helpful in keeping people in their homes, reducing crowding at stores and keeping unnecessary contact at markets to a minimum. He added that Flytrex had already been working with other companies to help with the COVID-19 relief effort before partnering with Walmart.

“In April, Flytrex partnered with EASE Drones, the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation and the City of Grand Forks to deliver necessities such as food and other essential goods to select households observing social distancing recommendations,” he said.

“As one customer put it, ‘it has been difficult to find time to shop let alone feel safe while doing so.'”

SEE: Big data’s role in COVID-19 (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Multiple companies, most notably Google, Amazon, and UPS, have been hard at work for years trying to make drone deliveries a reality. There are already companies that deliver goods by drone to hard-to-reach places in multiple countries, but the practice has been slow in gaining a foothold in the United States.

But with FAA regulations increasingly loosening over the years, more companies have made it their goal to bring drone delivery stateside.

In the Fayetteville pilot, Flytrex drones drop goods in people’s backyards and Bash explains how the system will work.

“Once they place their order through the app, they’ll be updated on its status along the way until it lands at their house,” he said. “This is a pilot project with the aim of continually improving delivery time. Once the drone is loaded and ready for take off, items are delivered within minutes.”

Tom Ward, senior vice president for customer products at Walmart, wrote in a blog post that the drones are controlled over the cloud using a control dashboard and that the pilot program will help both companies gain insight into how it affects customer and associate experiences throughout the entire delivery process.

“Our latest initiative has us exploring how drones can deliver items in a way that’s convenient, safe, and–you guessed it–fast. We know that it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone,” Ward said.

“That still feels like a bit of science fiction, but we’re at a point where we’re learning more and more about the technology that is available and how we can use it to make our customers’ lives easier. Take for example our autonomous vehicle work with Gatik, Ford and Nuro – we’ve gained loads of valuable insight into how autonomous vehicles fit within our business.”

He added that the pilot program will allow the company to shape the future of drone delivery considering how many stores Walmart owns in all 50 states.

Walmart has seen profits skyrocket since the pandemic began but the company is in a battle with Target and Amazon, which last month got approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for its own autonomous drone delivery program. With other companies testing out their own versions of autonomous cars or drones, it won’t be long before drone deliveries become more common

“Our vision has always been to make backyard drone deliveries standard, and this pilot marks an exciting milestone in that mission,” Bash said. “Walmart is an ideal partner to help get everyday retail drone deliveries off the ground, and together in this pilot, we’ll demonstrate the economic and environmental value of on-demand drone delivery to the good residents of Fayetteville, and beyond.”