Walmart’s drones take to the skies

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Five drones flying over a city skyline at sunset
This is a dramatization, but these are prettier than the actual Walmart drone.
Image: Hiroshi Watanabe (Getty Images)

Today we take a step toward yet another nightmare becoming a reality: Walmart has officially launched a drone delivery program. Sure, this sounds like we’re finally arriving at the shiny, efficient future The Jetsons promised, but think about all the random crap people buy at Walmart. Instead of driving to the nearest Walmart for little everyday things like a gallon of milk or a tube of antifungal ointment, customers can now stay comfortably in their homes while a drone brings packages to the front door. And when technology does all the stuff we don’t want to, we can spend even more time dicking around on our phones. So, what’s going to happen when humans become increasingly drone-dependent?

(Here’s my guess: we shall live in perpetual darkness as millions of drones blanket the skies, blocking the sun as they ferry dryer sheets and gummi vitamins and AA batteries all across the land. Our streets will be full of cardboard boxes and very excited feral cats. We’ll get to spend more time doing what we want to do, but at what cost?)

Anyway, Walmart is collaborating with drone delivery company Flytrex for the new pilot program, which launches today in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The drones are controlled over the cloud using a “smart and easy control dashboard”; Walmart’s press release did not clarify whether this dashboard is controlled by humans or an evil all-seeing A.I., only that the company will be using the drones to “gain valuable insight into the customer and associate experience, from picking and packing to takeoff and delivery.” Interpret this as you will.

Ground-level shot of a Walmart bag being dropped off by a delivery drone
Photo: Walmart

Walmart wants to assure the public that no one is in any immediate danger of freak drone accidents. The press release notes that “it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone,” which is an admission that the company anticipates to eventually do exactly that. It’s a plan that is exactly in line with all of the corporation’s recent investments in technology: The company has spent the past few years exploring the potential of driverless delivery vehicles, establishing pilot programs with autonomous vehicle companies like Gatik, Ford, and Nuro. Walmart has been putting aisle-scanning robots to work in its stores since 2018, and in 2019, Walmart transformed a store in Levittown, New York into a 50,000-square-foot Intelligent Retail Lab, equipped with smart cameras, interactive displays, and a massive data center. Earlier this year Walmart introduced its new Alphabot in Salem, New Hampshire, and has spent the last few months trying to purchase TikTok.

Walmart is also one of the few retailers that has benefited from coronavirus, reporting monumental sales increases and surging profits; in recent weeks, Walmart stock reached an all-time high. Everything is coming up Walmart!