In only six to nine months, Walmart plans to start using drones to improve inventory tracking at distribution centers. Today, the largest retailer in the world showed reporters how a drone could snap 30 images a second and send the information to mainframes in an instant. Tomorrow is the annual shareholders meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas.

According to Shekar Natarajan, the logistics strategy vice president, it isn’t so much about the drone technology. It’s more about all the data that can be collected more efficiently. Walmart has long wanted to avoid having too much of one product at a store while being out-of-stock of another. In order to compete better with by speeding up delivery, Walmart has been using stock at 80 supercenters in addition to 190 fulfillment centers in order to fill online orders.

Last year, Walmart asked for permission from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to test grocery pick-up and home delivery in order to go toe-to-toe with Amazon. Amazon has been testing drones to fill and deliver online orders for almost a year and a half now. It said in December that Prime Air, which is its drone program, will one day deliver packages that weigh up to five pounds in 30 minutes or less. Amazon does have a waiver from the FAA to fly drones for research. Several thousand waivers have been issued by the FAA that allow commercial drone flights.

Walmart will need almost perfect inventory management, including knowing exactly what merchandise is in which distribution center or store. Drones can also help Walmart know which is the fastest and most cost-efficient facility or store to use to fill an order. The technology the drones will add is expected to be a huge help.

Walmart is collaborating with NASA and the FAA to develop internally autonomous drone technology that will use a quad-copter drone that is about three feet by three feet. The camera attached to the top will communicate with the control center. Matches will register as green, mismatches as red and empty spaces as blue. An employee will be needed to monitor from a computer screen the progress the drone makes. When a drone finds a mistake, an alert will be sent so employees can go back to the stacks and take care of the problem.

Drones are to replace inventory quality assurance employees and do away with inventory checks in the company’s distribution centers. The employees stand on lifts that go up and down the stacks, scanning items to make sure that boxes are in the right place. Those inventory checks take one month to complete now; drones are supposed to cut that time down to one day. The employees who work as inventory checkers will have new job opportunities.

It’s not known just how much money Walmart has invested in its “Emerging Sciences” division, but it was mentioned that more applications of the drones, virtual reality project and artificial intelligence are in the works.

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  • Why add the complexity of a drone to the camera? Jut put the cameras on the sealing of you building and monitor 365 24/7 with a fraction of the cost and complexity?

  • Thought all posts had to have a picture?
  • I have seen FAA claims to the contrary...  or was it Transport Canada over here?  Maybe that's it.  One or the other claimed jurisdiction even indoors.

  • @Scott the faa has no jurisdiction over areas not deemed "navigable airspace", so inside is defiantly unregulated, this is generally accepted to extend to covered areas and netted areas.

  • Someone delete the above advertisement.. For some reason it got past my ad blocker! 

    And.... What does the FAA have to do w/ inside drones??  Do they control the airspace INSIDE my home and my businesses warehouse???

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