Walmart’s Unusual Drone Use Case

When most people think retail applications for drones at this point, they are likely thinking about delivery. Some eagerly anticipate the drone-based commerce logistics, others fear it, but in general both sides are in agreement that when one is talking retail drones, they are talking about using it to move goods.

But Walmart has some different ideas about the highest and best good drones can offer their retail operations. They are using camera-equipped drones not to deliver goods, but as a quality control measure to make sure that the right goods are being sorted into the right bins at Walmart fulfillment centers.

The custom-built camera takes about 30 pictures a second. It is essentially scanning the shelves as it flies by, and making sure everything is in its right place so that employees can quickly find it to ship it when it is time to go out to a store. When a wrong item is found on the shelves, the drone finds an employee at an “air traffic control” and sends along a real-time rendering of the shelf with a red mark where the wrongly placed good is.

The human worker then goes and moves the good to the correct place on the shelf.

The drones can do in about an hour what a pair of two humans need about a month to do. It is also safer to have drones do this, as human beings have to ride lifts several stories to check the top of shelves.

Currently, the drones are still in the testing phase, and will be for another six to nine months, according to Shekar Natarajan, a Walmart vice president who handles emerging technologies.

Walmart may also be considering drones for delivery. The firm has asked the FAA for a waiver to rest drones outdoors. Walmart may also use drones in the future to track merchandise like taking inventory outside distribution centers.


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