[3/20/17]  Dive Brief:

  • Wal-Mart earned a U.S. patent this week for a system that would allow drones to operate inside of its stores, moving products between departments and arriving on dedicated landing pads to hand off items to employees or customers, Fortune reports.
  • Under the patented scheme, a Wal-Mart store would have an automated system that would operate the drones, dispatching them as necessary and controlling their flight paths, which primarily would be arranged over store shelves, according to the report.
  • Some dedicated landing zones would be within customer view, but it is not clear yet whether the drones would pick up items for delivery elsewhere in a store, or if they would be loaded by employees. Wal-Mart did not respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

Dive Insight:

For some time, Amazon has been busy picking up patents related to different potential drone delivery concepts, but it’s nice to see a major brick-and-mortar retailer get its hands on at least one patent in the space. This is an interesting one, too, because it doesn’t focus on last-mile delivery, an area in which we have seen a lot of high-profile tests recently.

The concept of using drones inside of a retail space is not necessarily a new idea itself, and some market observers have suggested that rather than being used in a public air space in which logistical, air traffic and safety issues need to be sorted out, delivery drones actually could be used much sooner in fulfillment centers, massive warehouses and outdoors between supply chain structures located near one another.

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