Thursday 8 December 2016

Send in the drones: Google and Wal-Mart to battle Amazon in the skies

Published 19/11/2015 | 02:30

Drones to be used for delivering packages
Drones to be used for delivering packages
Walmart is playing catch-up with online rival Amazon

Google and Wal-Mart look set to take on Amazon in soon delivering packages to consumers using drones.

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Internet giant Google expects to begin delivering parcels via drones sometime in 2017, the executive in charge of its drone effort says.

David Vos, the leader for Alphabet's Project Wing, said his company is in talks with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other stakeholders about setting up an air traffic control system for drones that would use cellular and Internet technology to co-ordinate unmanned aerial vehicle flights at altitudes under 500 feet (152 metres).

"Our goal is to have commercial business up and running in 2017," he said.

Meanwhile, America's biggest shopping chain has also filed an application for drone deliveries.

"Wal-Mart's distribution system could become more efficient and consumers could be better served, benefiting the public interest," said Wal-Mart in an official application to the FAA. It has already been experimenting indoors where it doesn't need government approval, according to its filing with the agency.

The company also wants to use drones to assist with tracking merchandise, such as taking inventory of trailers outside its distribution centres, according to the filing. Wal-Mart will have to wait until it does further testing before it can determine if or when drones will become part of its daily operations, a spokesman said.

Wal-Mart has been trying to play catch-up with Amazon in the delivery space, opening a new network of online fulfilment centres to speed delivery times and testing its own subscription shipping service, like Amazon Prime. It has also been pushing in-store pickup, where customers can order an item online and have it ready for pick up at their local Wal-Mart.

The retailing giant's application outlined several types of drone tests Wal-Mart wants to conduct, including delivering groceries in a parking lot outside a store and launching a drone from a truck to deliver packages to nearby homes. About 70pc of the US population lives within five miles of a Wal-Mart store, according to the company.

Drone deliveries are not expected to take flight until after the FAA publishes final rules for commercial drone operations, which are expected early next year.

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