Walmart Testing Drones To Streamline Warehouse Work In 6 To 9 Months

Walmart is testing drones to help manage warehouse inventory more efficiently, for implementation in the next six to nine months. The retail giant made this announcement on Thursday, June 2, 2016, to media representatives gathered for a high-tech display in its massive Bentonville facility in Arkansas.

Walmart showed reporters a drone flying around in a warehouse environment, to capture images in real time and flag misplaced items, doing a job in a day or less that usually takes a month. The testing of drones has confirmed the gadget’s ability to take 30 pictures per second and guarantee speed and efficiency.

According to Consumerist, Walmart has applied for Federal Aviation Administration approval to go ahead with its testing program that would include drones to be used for home delivery and curbside grocery pickups. However, it’s unclear when the extra applications take effect after the distribution warehouse stage.

Walmart in need of drones
Ever-expanding Walmart needs drone help [Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]
At the Thursday demonstration, the humming drone moved up and down an aisle stocked nearly to the ceiling with canned goods, toys and many other products. Shekar Natarajan, Walmart’s vice president of last mile and emerging sciences, suggested to media attendees that the testing of drones opens the doors to endless possibilities.

Reuters reported that Walmart’s Natarajan justified testing drones with the ultimate goal of reducing the labor intensive process of checking stocks around a warehouse. He made this cautionary statement.

“We are still in early phases of testing and understanding how drones can be better used in different types of business functions.”

Walmart’s justification for testing drones lies in the fact that its workers currently scan pallets of goods with hand-held devices. The drone’s methodical vertical movements could mimic a forklift, which plays a vital role in the inspection of labels and inventory.

Workers could be replaced by drones
Some warehouse workers could be displaced by drones [Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]
According to Toronto Star, Walmart’s testing of drones could lead “potentially” to fewer workers responsible for taking stock or replacing missed items. Company spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said, however, that displaced workers could be deployed elsewhere in the warehouse.

The testing of drones comes with Walmart under duress to expand in the face of low-cost competition, particularly from online shopping giant Amazon. The result is a Walmart commitment to spend $2.7 billion on labor, technology, website improvement, and e-commerce growth. But even while beating expectations with $115.9 billion in revenue last quarter, President and Chief Executive Doug McMillon lamented the seven percent growth of e-commerce initiatives as “too slow.”

Beyond Walmart, testing drones appears to have gone viral. The intrepid devices are being looked at for their possibilities in rescue missions, tracking sharks, and even such war applications as suicide-bomber functions.

Versatile drone
Intrepid, easy-to-operate drones could be used for different things [Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]
According to The Desert Sun, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has begun Walmart-like testing of drones, albeit for use in search and rescue situations in Thermal, California. This development is being viewed by drone enthusiasts as an injured hiker’s salvation.

Chief Deputy Kevin Vest with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department is of the belief that two drones could cover up to 30 percent of search-and-rescue assignments, thus freeing up ground personnel for more subtle tracking of missing persons. The testing of drones, beyond the Walmart scope, could mean life or death for a lost hiker in dire circumstances.

CBS-WNCN going beyond Walmart, cites researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina, testing shark-seeking drones to one day give lifeguards a new eye in the sky. A growing great white shark population along the East Coast has officials and researchers resorting to high and low-tech means to ensure safety for millions of summer revelers hitting the beaches.

Also, beyond the Walmart goings-on, Russian military chiefs are reportedly testing “suicide bomber” drones to be used in sneak attacks against hostiles. The remote-controlled drones would reportedly detonate upon impact.

Walmart operates 190 distribution centers in the United States, each one serving 100 to 150 stores. Having to move millions of items through the centers each week has necessitated testing drones to streamline the whole unwieldy process.

[Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images]

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