A recent U.S. patent filing reveals news that Walmart wants to build blimp-type vessels that float above Earth, which would serve as warehouse hubs for the retailer. Drones would extract online Walmart products from the sky-bound warehouses and subsequently deliver them directly to consumers below.
Either a human pilot or an automated system would operate the warehouses, which would be positioned at up to 1,000 feet in the sky. The high-flying warehouses and their accompanying drone-based staff would help bolster faster package delivery rates and lower fulfillment costs for Walmart’s online orders, allowing the retailer to bypass the use of some employees.
Another advantage to sky-based Walmart online warehouses would be the ability to broaden the company’s distribution footprint, since standard, ground-based warehouses have the limitation of only being able to deliver packages to places within driving range, suggested Brandon Fletcher, an analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein, in remarks to Fortune.
The move appears to be the latest salvo in a growing eCommerce competition between Walmart and Amazon. While Amazon is beginning to establish brick-and-mortar locations and Instant Pickup spots to advance its footprint in Walmart’s territory, Walmart is now moving more deeply into Amazon’s digital space. The government granted Amazon a patent for an airborne warehouse and drone system last year, so the two retailers could potentially both be operating from the sky soon.
The filing is the latest among Walmart’s attempts to patent its growing portfolio of digital technologies. Last year, the company filed to patent technology that would allow shoppers to seamlessly click web-based buttons to reorder household products, and a prior patent request outlined a plan to position drones inside the company's brick-and-mortar locations to bring inventory from stock rooms straight to store shelves.