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Walmart wants to test its delivery drones outdoors

The retail giant asks the FAA for permission to test the use of drones that would carry items to its warehouses and customers' homes

Amazon and Google aren't the only retailers who want to dart packages to your home by delivery drone. Walmart is also looking to the skies.

On Monday, Walmart applied to the US Federal Aviation Administration for permission to test the use of delivery drones that would carry items to warehouses, pickup areas and customer homes, according to a copy of the application sent to CNET. The desire to use drones to transport merchandise follows similar moves by Amazon and Google.

Retailers such as Amazon and Walmart are continually looking for new ways to outsmart the competition and attract customers. Speedy delivery is one strategy. Small, unmanned commercial drones would avoid the delays of standard postal service by flying through the air to deliver a package directly to a customer's home. If those plans ever get off the testing ground via FAA approval, they would supplement new terrestrial delivery methods, such as Amazon's Flex program, which lets people sign up to become on-demand delivery drivers, and Uber's UberRush courier service.

Walmart has already been running its own indoor tests of drones, which it said have demonstrated its ability to safely fly and control the drones as well as land them in small areas in order to pick up and drop off packages. The Bentonville, Arkansas, company wants to perform the same types of tests, only now doing them outdoors. In its request, the retail chain aims to use drones to make inventory checks of trailers outside its warehouses and use them in "deliveries to customers at Walmart facilities, as well as to consumer homes," according to the application.

Walmart plans to use the DJI Phantom 3 Professional and the DJI S900 drones for its initial outdoor testing.

The FAA had initially been slow and cautious about granting approval to retailers to test delivery drones in the outside world. To date, the agency has approved more than 2,100 exemptions that allow for the testing and use of commercial drones.

Walmart rival Amazon has already been testing the use of delivery drones. The company's Prime Air service would use 8-propeller drones around the size of a remote-controlled airplane to transport shoebox-size plastic bins from Amazon fulfillment centers to customer homes. In March, the FAA gave Amazon approval to test its Prime Air drones by using licensed pilots to remotely control them at lower than 400 feet during daylight hours.

Now Walmart wants to follow in Amazon's footsteps.

"Walmart has one of the largest and most efficient supply chains in the world, and our initial tests are targeted at helping to manage that vast network of distribution centers, online fulfillment centers and stores," Walmart spokesman Brian Nick said. "There is a Walmart within five miles of 70 percent of the US population, which creates some interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones."

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