Walmart Testing Warehouse Drones to Catalog and Manage Inventory

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is testing drones that it says will help it manage its warehouse inventory more efficiently, and which it said yesterday could be rolled out in the next six to nine months across its distribution centers.

We’ve known since last October that Walmart was hoping to use drones as part of its business.

Initially the goal seemed to be rapid delivery, just like its competitor Amazon.

But before that happens, drones may start working on inventory management inside Walmart’s warehouses, flying around and scanning items to see what is running low.

The New York Times got a look at what the company has going on so far.

Walmart’s Vice President of Last Mile and Emerging Sciences Shekar Natarajan demonstrated the use of drones to reporters in one of the company’s regional distribution centers.

The drones captured 30 frames per second of products on aisles and alerted the “pilot” when products were becoming depleted or not properly stocked.

Shekar Natarajan, Walmart’s vice president of logistics strategy

“It’s really the technology that mounts on the drones that makes it very important,” Shekar Natarajan, Walmart’s vice president of logistics strategy (photo right).

Robots are doing in one day what its takes us puny humans a month to complete. As usual when discussing these kind of radical new efficiencies, Walmart took pains to quiet such fears.

While drones could “potentially” mean there would be less demand for human labor, Walmart “could” also just use them for new tasks in the warehouse - like repairing drones!

Autonomous machines are already pretty common in warehouses, and the regulatory landscape for autonomous delivery drones is still very uncertain.

All that means we’re much more likely to see Walmart deploy flying bots inside its facilities well before we will have them actually dropping our packages off on the front porch.

The company told the Times it is hoping to have drones actively working in one or more warehouses within six to nine months.

Related: Are Drones the New iPhone?

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