Walmart partners with Zipline for glider drone delivery tests

It's the second drone deal Walmart has made in the last week.

Handout . / reuters

Walmart has had drone delivery ambitions for years now, and today they’ve announced a partnership with Zipline for on-demand delivery of “health and wellness” products. Zipline drones aren’t the quadcopters that most think of for these types of delivery services. Instead, they’re gliders that have longer range and won’t just drop out of the sky if something fails.

Trial deliveries using Zipline’s drones will take place near Walmart headquarters in northwest Arkansas with a plan to start early next year. Walmart says that the Zipline drones will be able to operate within a 50-mile radius, and they produce no carbon emissions. Based on a video in Walmart’s press release, it looks like the drone simply releases your package with a little parachute to land it at your home.

At this point, Zipline has plenty of experience — Walmart says they have the world’s largest drone delivery network. Zipline has been operating since late 2016, starting in Rwanda with a focus on delivery medical supplies. More recently, Zipline has been operating in Ghana since 2019 and has been key in delivering supplies like personal protective equipment to medical professionals throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this year, Zipline expressed ambitions to enter the US market; it has been in discussions with Novant Health about delivering PPE and medical equipment to its campuses near Charlotte, NC. Between this potential deal and its pilot with Walmart, it sounds like Zipline’s plans for US growth have found some traction.

As for Walmart, this is the second drone delivery deal the company has made in the last week. Just a few days ago, the retailer announced a pilot program with drone company Flytrex, which will use its more traditional quadcopter delivery drones to deliver groceries and other household supplies. That pilot will take place from Walmart stores near Fayetteville, NC.