Reuters claims that Walmart has been testing unmanned aircraft systems indoors for the past several months and is now ready to take the show outside. The FAA has not yet established rules for the commercial use of delivery drones, also known as parcelcopters, and it is currently illegal. However, there is an exemption that companies can apply for. The FAA has approved 2,100 such exemptions.
There is no official timeline for when the FAA will make a decision about commercial drone usage, but Reuters claims that the FAA tries to respond within 120 days. The test would be to see if a drone could be deployed from a truck, deliver a package and return to the truck.
Walmart would be facing off directly with Amazon’s Prime Air program, which seeks to use drones to “get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less using small unmanned aerial vehicles.” Amazon made its first application to the FAA in July 2014. Google has also announced plans to create a drone delivery system called Wing for same-day deliveries of Google Shopping Express items. The USPS and FedEx are testing parcelcopters as well.
If drone deliveries become a reality, it’s likely that any company sending deliveries would need to get approval from the people who live in a flight path. To date, only one delivery drone has been approved for use in the U.S. In July, NASA, Flirty and Virginia Tech sent pharmaceuticals to a free medical clinic in rural Virginia.