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A Zipline drone takes off with Walmart products from a Neighborhood Market in Pea Ridge, Arkansas. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

Starting today, drones shaped like miniature airplanes will drop packages of 4 pounds or less in customers' yards when they order from a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Northwest Arkansas.

Why it matters: The era of ubiquitous delivery by drone is inching forward, with scattered pilot programs involving pizzas and other light shipments — and the imprimatur of Walmart on this service is a big deal.

Driving the news: Walmart and its partner, the drone-maker Zipline, announced their new service Thursday. It will operate from a 25-foot takeoff and landing platform behind a Neighborhood Market in rural Pea Ridge, Arkansas, about 20 minutes from the retailer's home office.

  • The companies will use the results of the trial program to figure out how — or if — to expand the service to other markets.

The big picture: Customers increasingly expect to have their orders delivered as soon as possible, and the "last mile" persists as the thorniest issue. According to Deloitte, delivery-by-drone is estimated to become a $115 billion industry by 2035.

  • Zipline says its cute little aircraft can loft packages of about 4 pounds, and can get them to customers within 30 minutes of an order.

How it works: Customers within the service area place and schedule an online order — for now, nonprescription drugstore items and some types of (lightweight) food are allowed. A Walmart employee bundles it up and hands it off to a Zipline staffer.

  • Zipline preps and launches the drone, which drops the package with a biodegradable parachute. The drone returns to the platform for another order.
  • Officials told Axios that packages consistently land in an area the size of two parking spots.
A Zipline drone drops a package. Photo: Courtesy Zipline

The intrigue: The Zipline drones do all the flying on their own, with no cameras or remote human pilots.

  • The drone will circle its target to determine wind direction, then approach the drop zone from the best angle so the package lands nearest the target.
  • The drone's 11-foot wings are equipped with proprietary sensors to ensure that it doesn't go where it's not supposed to.

What they're saying: Zipline COO Liam O'Connor told Axios that it could launch a drone from the platform every 90 seconds, potentially making hundreds of deliveries a day.

  • He acknowledged the market is competitive, with companies like Alphabet and Amazon racing for primacy.
  • He said Zipline's track record of delivering medicine in Rwanda and Ghana gives it an edge.

What we're watching: The drones are operating under a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration that permits flight within limited airspace and only during daylight. Eventually, Zipline could operate within a 50-mile radius of its home Walmart store.

  • Walmart says it's working with the FAA to expand delivery to even more customers in Northwest Arkansas, but had no timeline.

Editor's note: Reporter Worth Sparkman is a Walmart shareholder.

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Axios Visuals Deep Dive: Pandemic eating

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A food revolution began pre-pandemic and COVID has only accelerated that. See how America's food industry is transforming, from farm to your table.

Abrams’ campaign manager rules out 2024 run if she wins governor's race

Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

In her first major interview since the official announcement, Stacey Abrams' campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo quashed speculation that the Georgia Democrat would interrupt a theoretical gubernatorial term to run for president in 2024.

Why it matters: Abrams' name has come up repeatedly as a top 2024 Democratic contender given President Joe Biden's age and Vice President Kamala Harris's low favorability rating.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump social media group raises $1 billion from undisclosed investors

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Donald Trump's social media startup on Saturday announced that it secured $1 billion in new investment as part of its ongoing efforts to become publicly traded via a blank check company.

Between the lines: None of the investors were identified, which is highly unusual for this sort of transaction.