Do Walmart and Target Have a Secret Weapon to Beat Amazon on Drone Delivery?

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We all know that Amazon is the clear leader in online sales and that it is also pushing hard to make drones deliveries a reality. It looks like they have the upper hand, especially when you consider that their nearest rivals in online sales—Walmart and Target—are far behind them in developing drone delivery.

But Walmart and Target have a secret weapon that could, if properly used, give them an advantage against the empire of Jeff Bezos. What is that secret weapon, you ask? Their stores!

Both Walmart and Target have thousands of store and distribution centers throughout the nation that could easily accommodate a drone delivery center.

The good folks over has Business Insider Intelligence have put together some interesting info using data from users of The Weather Company App. They found that 49% of users of the weather app live within 6 miles of a Walmart store and that 47% of users live within 6 miles of a Target store. In both cases, around 15% of purchases these individuals made where under $10 and likely would be light enough to deliver by drones. Walmart’s own numbers are even better. On a recent blog the mega retailer said that 70% of the US population lives within 5 miles of a Walmart store.

In comparison only 44% of people live within 20 miles of an Amazon fulfillment center, beyond the range of current drone delivery technology.

There are a lot of ifs here, but if either Walmart or Target can realize this potential and get in the drone delivery game, things could heat up real quick!

Drone Deliveries in China Outpace Anything Amazon is Doing

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Chinese eCommerce behemoth JD.com plans to expand its drone delivery routes to over 100 by the end of the year. The Chinese company already has around 20 routes currently in service in four selected areas throughout China and has worked closely with the Chinese government to get permission to operate its delivery drones.

As of now, it looks like JD’s drone deliveries will continue to be to rural areas as they are looking to gain more experience before moving to China’s crowded cities. According to JD, packages that qualify for drone delivery are flown to a JD delivery post in the village and then taken by a local employee to the home that ordered the item.

JD has done all of this as Amazon and others are still just getting off the ground. China’s largest eCommerce company Alibaba—which operates the popular sites like Taobao and Tmall—has experimented with drone deliveries, but has not committed to any clear course of action like JD.

The Year of the Drone?

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Happy New Year from the team at Drone Dossier! We look forward to providing you the latest in drone news and happenings in 2017.

Drones continued to work their way into the popular conscience of America in 2016. According to the FAA, 2.3 million drones were sold in the United States in 2016—double that of last year. Of those an estimated 1.2 million were sold during the Christmas season. As more and more people have a personal interaction with drones, it is everyone’s hope that the negative stigma previously attached to drones (over military use and privacy concerns) will start to melt away.

Looking back, 2016 was a landmark year for drones. The Verge, which issues end of the year report cards for various tech industries, gave drones a solid B grade for 2016. The report noted positives like the first successful Amazon Air drone deliver and negatives like the lack of industry competition.

2017 promises to be even better, especially for commercial drones markets. Venture Beat is calling 2017 “The Year of Drones”. For one, there is the new Part 107 regulation which gives direction and legal backing to drone operations. Venture Beat foresees drone companies making partnerships with large enterprises, which will prove they can be big money makers. Drones are also becoming better by the minute, which makes them easier to fly and use for a variety of purposes—everything from precision agriculture to air mapping.

Even if the positive predictions of drones don’t all come true in 2017, there is one undeniable fact—you are going to see more drones and hear more about them in the coming year.

Amazon Receives Patent for Mesh Network to Protect Drones

Amazon recently received a patent for a new ‘Mesh Network’ to protect the digital integrity of its planned fleet of delivery drones.

With plans to spread its drone deliver services, one big concern Amazon has is the ability of third parties to interfere with the delivery drones using jamming devices or hacking techniques.

In response to this threat, Amazon developed a special ‘Mesh Network’ so drones could receive and transmit operating data securely. The network uses several drones to distribute information to one another. According to Amazon the shared data will allow the drones to “confirm or cross-check data such as location, heading, altitude, and so forth.”

If the data the ‘distributing drone’ sends is not observed in the ‘receiving drone’ then it is considered to be compromised and Amazon can take actions to correct this.

Amazon plans to have many drones airborne and these drones will not just be delivering packages, they will also be relaying data to other drones and observing to see if they follow this data. Amazon is betting this encrypted web of communication will make their drone operations safer.

Amazon Conducts 1st Drone Delivery

With a bag of popcorn and a Amazon Fire Stick, eCommerce giant Amazon made its 1st live drone delivery on December 7th. The delivery was conducted in Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom, near a secret Amazon test sight Drone Dossier has reported on before.

Video of the drone delivery and more information about what Amazon are planning for their Prime Air service are available here. Amazon plans to use drones to make deliveries in 30 minutes or less from local fulfillment centers. Their plan is to fly a fleet of high speed drones in a designated airspace 200-400 feet above the ground. Aircraft in this airspace would be required to have sense and avoid technology.

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While Amazon is not the first to make a drone delivery it is an important milestone for the future of drones—one that is being made outside the United States. The FAA is making some headway with its Part 107, but more needs to be done quickly to make US regulations competitive with the rest of the world.

Reports Denied Entry to Top Secret Amazon Testing Facility in the UK

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A group of journalist was denied access to a rural farm in the UK where Amazon is conducting top secret tests of delivery drones.

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The journalists decided to check out the fields after being tipped off by locals. The first photographs of the drones being tested surfaced in September.

Massive Chinese Online Retailer Starts Drone Deliveries

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JD.com, one China’s largest online retailers and tech companies has kicked off its drone delivery service. The program is starting with trials to rural areas in Beijing, Jiangsu, Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces.

Although still a trial, JD is already delivery ‘live’ packages to real consumers, which puts it far ahead of companies like Amazon and Walmart who have invested millions into drone deliveries but are still largely hampered by FAA regulations.

JD worked with more receptive Chinese officials to get permission to start their delivery program with 30 drones that can deliver packages of up to 15 kilograms within a range of 50 kilometers.

With billions of dollars in sales a year, JD is poised to be a major player in the drone delivery business. American companies have a lot to learn from JD and should carefully observe how they roll out their plan. By the end of this year, JD plans to expand their current trial to over 100 operational routes throughout China.