In order to better compete, retailers such as Walmart have grown to offer everything you could possibly want under one roof. In order to do that, the stores became massive. Walmart’s Supercenters, for example, can be as large as 260,000 square feet. Walmart also realizes you may not want to walk around looking for products, so it is now considering using drones to fetch them for you.
Drone deliveries face many hurdles including regulatory permission to fly, but that’s outdoors, and while companies such as UPS are testing such systems, Walmart wants drones flying indoors through its own stores, which should be a lot easier to achieve.
First spotted by Fortune, Walmart filed a patent entitled “Method to carry an item within a retail shopping facility.” The patent describes being able to dispatch a drone within a retail shopping facility to collect and return with specific items. Essentially, Walmart is describing a personal shopper drone.
As the patent explains, a computer would oversee drone flights within a store, with each being told where to fly, what to collect, and where to deliver it to. Sensors mounted on the drone will help avoid collisions, and drones would fly above shelves rather than aisles so as not to annoy shoppers who do decide to walk around the store.
There’s a number of advantages to offering such a service. It could encourage customers to shop while they have a coffee or meal and then simply collect their goods before leaving. Customers walking around the store may see something they want, but don’t want to carry it around the store, so use their smartphone to ask a drone to collect it for them. Such a system is also going to be useful to Walmart for restocking shelves, which could be automated and carried out when the store is closed.
Automating the shopping process and increasing convenience, the potential to replace some staff with drones and therefore cut costs, and the lack of regulatory hurdles because the system is only required to work indoors, suggests Walmart could try and roll this system out pretty quickly.