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​Walmart chases Amazon in game of drones

Walmart wants to test drones for home grocery deliveries and to sharpen its inventory management.

US retail giant Walmart wants to test drones for use in home delivery and warehouse inventory management in another effort to head-off Amazon's encroachment on retail.

Walmart has filed an application with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to test the drones for fulfil deliveries to customers at its own outlets and to customers' homes as well as curbside pickups, according to Reuters.

The application reportedly also details Walmart's plans to use drones to take stock of inventory from trailers outside of its warehouses and to fine tune its distribution system.

The retailer's move follow Amazon's and Google's drone delivery trials ahead of the FAA laying down new rules to regulate the technology in commercial operations, which is currently banned in the US.

For Walmart, the trial follows its recent moves to expand its online grocery services and offer curbside pickup for groceries ordered online in select markets. As a free service, it aims to undercut rival services such as Amazon's AmazonFresh delivery service.

Having launched in an initial eight markets the Walmart service is now available in 23 with a further 20 markets scheduled for next year, Reuters noted.

Walmart hopes to confirm whether a drone could deliver a package to a pickup point in the parking lot of a store as well as test home delivery in small residential neighbourhoods to see if a drone can make a drop and return home safely.

Walmart has already been carrying out indoor tests of two types of drones for several months, according to the New York Times. The two drones it's seeking permission for testing include the Phantom 3 and S900 from SZ DJI Technology of China.

A US patent granted to Amazon for its drone network system details the potential challenges of using the technology in commercial operations. The company is envisaging 30 minute deliveries to buyers at home, work or on a boat, guided by an app on the user's smartphone. The patent also showed Amazon considering a system that would minimise time spent by a drone over roads as well as systems to avoid crashing into humans or animals and other objects.