Walmart Testing Drones for DC Inventory Management

Walmart has begun testing the use of drones in a distribution center for conducting inventory, completing in an hour what it would take two associates a month to do, according to various published reports.

While Walmart, like Amazon and Google, has applied to the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct outdoor aerial tests of drones for package delivery, drone-based DC inventory scanning seems a much easier approval hurdle to clear, a more practical use and a quicker return on the investment. Walmart’s FAA application also mentioned possible use of drones for tracking merchandise, including taking inventory of trailers outside its distribution centers.

[Get updates on omnichannel & DTC operations | Subscribe to O+F Advisor today!]

Walmart’s testing is being conducted inside a 1.2 million-square-foot DC near its Bentonville, AR headquarters. The drone scans shelves, taking 30 pictures a second. When an item is in the wrong place, an “air traffic controller” sees it on a map of the facility on his screen, and associates are dispatched to move it.

The company said the drone testing process should take another six to nine months to complete. Along with building out its ecommerce infrastructure and technology investments, this is another way the world’s largest retailer is looking to gain ground in its never-ending battle with Amazon.

Will drone technology in the DC prove to be an augmentation of associate tasks, or will it be an efficiency tool that leads to downsizing of staff? Most likely the latter, but time will tell. And compared to other types of DC automation technology, drones should prove relatively inexpensive to purchase and operate.

Partner Content

The Gift of Wow: Preparing your store for the holiday season - Netsuite
Being prepared for the holiday rush used to mean stocking shelves and making sure your associates were ready for the long hours. But the digital revolution has changed everything, most importantly, customer expectations. Retailers with a physical store presence should be asking themselves—what am I doing to wow the customer?
3 Critical Components to Achieving the Perfect Order - NetSuite
Explore the 3 critical components to delivering the perfect order.
Streamlining Unified Commerce Complexity - NetSuite
Explore how consolidating multiple systems through a cloud-based commerce platform provides a seamless experience for both you, and your customer.
Strategies for Maximizing Mobile Point-of-Sale Technology - NetSuite
Learn the top five innovative ways to utilize your mobile POS technology to drive customer engagement, increase sales and elevate your brand.