Walmart continues to dabble in new technologies, and customers in Northwest Arkansas may soon get a glimpse of the retailer’s latest venture.
In a new blog post, the company says it is partnering with California-based delivery startup Zipline to launch a drone delivery operation in the U.S. Zipline has transported blood and plasma transfusions and other medical products in Rwanda and Tanzania for the past three years.
Trial deliveries for Walmart will take place near the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, according to a Walmart blog post Monday (Sept. 14).
“The operation will likely begin early next year, and, if successful, we’ll look to expand,” said Tom Ward, a senior executive who oversees customer product at Walmart. “As we continue to build upon the foundation of innovation laid for us by Mr. Sam, we’ll never stop looking into and learning about what the next best technology is and how we can use it to better serve our customers now and into the future.”
Walmart recently announced a pilot program with Flytrex using drones to deliver groceries and household essentials in Fayetteville, N.C. The new service with Zipline will make on-demand deliveries of select health and wellness products with the potential to expand to general merchandise.
Zipline drones will launch from an unspecified Walmart store in Northwest Arkansas and can service a 50-mile radius, Ward said, which is about the size of Connecticut.
“And, not only does their launch and release system allow for quick on-demand delivery in under an hour, but it also eliminates carbon emissions, which lines up perfectly with our sustainability goals,” he said.
Zipline operates the world’s largest drone delivery network. The company began operating in late 2016 in Rwanda primarily focusing on the on-demand delivery of medical supplies. To date, it has safely delivered more than 200,000 critical medical products to thousands of health facilities serving more than 20 million people across multiple countries. Ward said that experience “uniquely positions them for national-scale operations across the United States.”
Earlier this year, Zipline was given the go-ahead to deliver medical supplies and personal protective equipment to hospitals in North Carolina. A company executive said he hoped the North Carolina example could “provide the rest of the country with a blueprint” for future healthcare deliveries.