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Amazon debuted a new drone at its re:MARS conference. Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Drone delivery — tied up in regulatory debates and largely nonexistent beyond a few, isolated pilots — hasn't boomed in the U.S. yet, but Amazon and Walmart are placing big bets on unmanned vehicles.

The big picture: The hooplah has intensified to the point where a number of upstarts are popping up to offer drone-delivery-in-a-box to the retailers who can't afford to invest themselves. The two retail rivals are betting that drone delivery — currently estimated to be worth $30 billion — will take an increasingly large share of the $1.5 trillion logistics business.

"The market for drone logistics can be tremendous," says Sertac Karaman, a professor at MIT.

What's happening: Amazon stole the headlines last week when it debuted a brand new package delivery drone at its annual re:MARS conference. But the e-commerce titan has a worthy opponent in Walmart, which has actually outpaced Amazon in the drone patent race in 2018 and 2019, per the FT.

  • Amazon envisions using drones to make thousands of super-fast deliveries from warehouses that are on the outskirts of cities to doorsteps, skipping all the traffic jams.
  • Walmart, with its 5000-store footprint, could use drones to challenge Amazon's delivery prowess and transport millions of bags of groceries in minutes.

And the two could force other smaller retailers to use drones in order to compete.

There are already companies hoping to capitalize on this need, Karaman says. Top Flight Technologies in Boston makes drones and the software that powers them. Another called Flirtey is offering drone delivery as a service.

Worth noting: Chinese companies are far ahead of their American counterparts when it comes to delivery by air. Chinese e-commerce giants JD.com and Alibaba have used drones to transport packages to China's hinterlands since 2016.

Go deeper

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Omicron outbreaks were bad for business in January

Data: New York Federal Reserve Bank; Chart: Axios Visuals

Emerging anecdotal evidence shows just how hard the recent rise in COVID-19 cases hit businesses in early January — but that hasn't hurt some business leaders’ longer-term views on their companies' prospects.

Why it matters: Increasingly, the economic recovery has come in fits and starts that move in tandem with new peaks in cases. Look no further than the thousands of cancelled flights and shuttered Broadway theaters in the wake of the Omicron variant's spread over the last few months.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
55 mins ago - Health

The shifting definition of fully vaccinated

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The definition of what it means to be "fully vaccinated" is evolving even as the CDC has remained careful not to officially change it.

Why it matters: CDC officials have been balancing the job of convincing Americans who've already gotten two doses of the importance of boosters with getting many Americans who still need their first doses to get their shots at all.

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Small businesses see hiring as No. 1 worry

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Almost every small business owner in a Goldman Sachs survey is having trouble hiring — and two-thirds think the federal government has done too little to ease their hiring, supply-chain and inflation worries.

Why it matters: The Goldman Sachs research gives a vivid window into the continuing headwinds and hardship for entrepreneurs.