Walmart is making a partnership with Zipline to start a delivery service by drone, in the USA.
Source: IEEE Spectrum
Today, Walmart and Zipline are announcing preliminary plans “to bring first-of-its kind drone delivery service to the United States.” What makes this drone-delivery service the first of its kind is that Zipline uses fixed-wing drones rather than rotorcraft, giving them a relatively large payload capacity and very long range at the cost of a significantly more complicated launch, landing, and delivery process. Zipline has made this work very well in Rwanda, and more recently in North Carolina. But expanding into commercial delivery to individual households is a much different challenge.
Walmart and Zipline published a video about how the service will work.
The new service will make on-demand deliveries of select health and wellness products with the potential to expand to general merchandise. Trial deliveries will take place near Walmart’s headquarters in Northwest Arkansas. Zipline will operate from a Walmart store and can service a 50-mile radius, which is about the size of the state of Connecticut. The operation will likely begin early next year, and, if successful, we’ll look to expand.
At first glance, there’s basic feasibility here, in the sense that most health and wellness products are likely to be of the size and weight to be transportable by one of Zipline’s drones—called Zips—and that a Zipline fulfillment center with a drone catapult and retrieval system could be set up to operate in a Walmart parking lot (or somewhere nearby) without any problems.
The delivery point must be an area where there aren’t houses, streets, and any other obstruction, to avoid fall in inconvenient spots, like a roof, for example. When higher the drop altitude, the bigger must be the area.
How to avoid collisions?
Zipline’s drones can detect other aircraft that are equipped with ADS-B transmitters, which covers an increasing number of manned aircraft. However, up to 400 feet of altitude, airspace is (with some exceptions) typically open to consumer drones as well, which usually do not have ADS-B transmitters. We know that Zipline is working on its own onboard sense and avoid system, but until they have that working, there’s a risk of a Zip colliding with another drone. The sky is big, so this may not be very likely, but it’s still something that should be taken into consideration. One way of mitigating this risk is by flying higher than 400 feet, but that starts getting into more complicated stuff with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.