Wal-Mart is testing drones inside its distribution and fulfillment centers, believing the technology could be rolled out in six to nine months as a way to check inventory more efficiently to keep up with customer demands, according to Arkansas Online.
The retailer provided a peek of its use of the technology during a media tour of its Bentonville, Ark., distribution center Thursday. The drone is fully automated, but was manually controlled during the demonstration as it flew up and down warehouse shelves, captured images and determined whether products were in the right place in the distribution center.
Checking inventory is done by workers who have to use lifts and are harnessed in for safety as they scan products throughout the warehouse. The switch to drones could cut the time it takes to check the inventory throughout a facility that spans roughly 1.2 million square feet, or the equivalent of 26 football fields, from one month to one day.
Shekar Natarajan, Wal-Mart's vice president of logistics strategy, said the cameras mounted to the drones have been custom-built for the retailer and give Wal-Mart the ability to deploy technology that can capture video and images in real time. Natarajan said when the technology is rolled out, distribution centers will have a central location where the automated drone's activity can be monitored and inventory errors can be quickly corrected.
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Editor's Insight: The improved efficiency that Wal-Mart demonstrated is impossible to ignore. Shekar Natarajan, Wal-Mart’s logistics strategy chief, told The New York Times that the drones can catalog in one day what it takes employees one month.
Drones are being explored in the areas of crop monitoring, inventory management and last mile delivery.
A new report on transportation and logistics from Lux Research notes that Google and Amazon, along with start-ups Matternet, Flirtey and Starship Technologies, have begun using drones for same-day delivery of small packages, establishing new benchmarks in last-mile efficiency. The first commercial delivery by drone occurred in the U.S. in early 2016. 6-3-16 By Elliot Maras