Jun 15, 2022 - News

NWA could see more drone deliveries

A Zipline prepares a drone that will fly blood supplies to a remote clinic in East African Rwanda in 2018. Photo: Kristin Palitza/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

Automated logistics company Zipline has new drone technology that could enable the business to ramp up delivery services, founder and CEO Keller Rinaudo told Axios.

Why it matters: Walmart has been piloting (pun intended) a drone delivery service using Zipline drones out of its Pea Ridge Neighborhood Market, and Rinaudo said the new technology will enable Zipline to serve a 50-mile radius.

  • We reported in November that the drones were operating under a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration that permits flight within limited airspace and only during daylight.
  • Walmart said at that time it was working with the FAA to expand delivery to more customers in Northwest Arkansas, but had no timeline.

How it works: The detection and avoidance technology uses a microphone to detect any other aircraft within a 2-mile radius of the drone, and the drone quickly moves accordingly to avoid other aircraft. The delivery tool works in all weather conditions.

  • Rinaudo called this "the core piece of technology that has been lacking to finally fully integrate autonomous aircraft into the busiest commercial airspaces in the world."
  • Zipline is awaiting a final certification from the FAA that would give it the most expansive regulatory permission of any company in the U.S. to fly autonomously, he said.

What they're saying: A Walmart spokesperson told Axios the company doesn't have anything new to share but is "excited to see Zipline continue to innovate with new detection and avoidance technology and look forward to learning how this technology benefits our operations in Pea Ridge."

  • Rinaudo declined to comment on whether Zipline will expand delivery services to other Walmart stores or distribution centers.

The big picture: Drone deliveries allow customers to order small items instead of spending time and gas money driving to a store. The service is often used for items like prescription medication.

  • Zipline also uses these drones internationally, largely serving hospitals and health clinics.

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