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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

2 hours ago - World

U.S. drone strike victims' families in Afghanistan seek compensation

A relative of Ezmarai Ahmadi, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike, looks at the wreckage of a vehicle that was damaged in the strike in the Kwaja Burga neighbourhood of Kabul on Saturday. Photo: Hoshang Hashimi AFP via Getty Images

Relatives of 10 Afghans killed by a U.S. drone strike in Kabul last month said Saturday they want to see punishment and compensation over the deaths.

Driving the news: The relatives said it's "good news" that the U.S. had "officially admitted" that "they had attacked innocents" in the Aug. 29 strike that killed Zamarai Ahmadi, an aid worker with a U.S.-based group, and nine family members, but they still need "justice," per AFP.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
6 hours ago - Science

All-civilian Inspiration4 is back on Earth after flight to space

A side-by-side of the Inspiration4 crew and a shot of their capsule on the way back to Earth. Photo: SpaceX

The all-civilian Inspiration4 crew is back on Earth after their three-day mission in orbit.

The big picture: The launch and landing of this fully amateur, private space crew marks a changing of the guard from spaceflight being a largely government-led venture to being under the purview of private companies.

28 U.S. citizens depart Afghanistan on Qatar Airways flight

Passengers board a Qatar Airways aircraft bound to Qatar at the airport in Kabul on September 10, 2021. Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department on Saturday confirmed that a Qatar Airways charter flight left Kabul on Friday with 28 U.S. citizens and seven lawful permanent residents on board.

The big picture: Friday's flight is the third such airlift by Qatar Airways since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, AP reports.