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On Monday, Wal-Mart filed for an exemption with the Federal Aviation Administration to test drones. The retailer's logistics team has been testing indoors for several months in the United States and now wants to move outdoors.
The world's largest retailer says it's ready to begin tests once the FAA signs off on the exemption. As businesses await final rules for commercial drone flights, the FAA has granted exemptions to businesses that are eager to use the new technology.
Wal-Mart's competitor Amazon has been a leader in the space, detailing how it thinks drones can fly safely, and traveling overseas to test where regulations are less restrictive.
Here are four scenarios in which Wal-Mart would like to start testing drones immediately, according to its application:
1. Deliver goods to customers' homes
With 70 percent of U.S. residents within five miles of a Wal-Mart, drone delivery is very intriguing for the retailer. Wal-Mart wants permission to have drones take off from delivery trucks, bring goods to a home and then return to the truck. Wal-Mart says it would obtain permission from the homeowner, as well as any other property owners in the path of the drones. It wants these tests to occur at small residential neighborhoods in the United States. Wal-Mart would be operating within the line of sight of a pilot responsible for the drone, so these flights would not be covering especially long distances.
2. Grocery pickup
These tests would determine if drones could deliver goods from a store to a point farther out in its parking lot. While not specifically laid out in the application, this would like be done to improve convenience for customers, as groceries could be picked up without even entering the store.
3. Gather aerial data, and lots of it
Wal-Mart says data acquired from its drones could be useful for business analytics. It could gather photos, video or data from infrared and chemical sensors. Construction companies and others have used drones to gather aerial data and better manage their operations. Wal-Mart says it wants to conduct some tests over large tracts of rural land that it owns.
4. Better manage its distribution centers
Wal-Mart describes flying drones to conduct external surveillance of its buildings and parking lots. Electronic tags could be used to conduct inventories of trailers and other things.
In its application Wal-Mart said it would like to test the DJI Phantom 3 Professional and DJI S900. Both weigh under four pounds. Wal-Mart for now is only testing in the United States. The news was first reported by Reuters.
(Disclosure: Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)