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Walmart is Latest Retailer to Apply for Drone Testing

Walmart is the latest company to apply to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for drone research. The retailer has been testing the technology indoors for several months and seeks now to move outside.

According to the application, Reuters revealed, Walmart wants to test drones for multiple purposes including taking stock of inventory, using “electronic tagging” as a more efficient method to count items in the large warehouses.

In addition, Walmart requests testing for home delivery—specifically in small residential neighborhoods—and “deliveries to customers at Walmart facilities.” Before testing could begin, each property owner in the affected area would need to provide “express, written permission,” as stated in the application.

Dan Toporek, a spokesman for Walmart, expressed the retailer’s excitement at the possibility of drone delivery.

“Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores,” he said. “There is a Walmart within five miles of 70 percent of the U.S. population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones.”

Although there is no official partnership, Walmart said it plans to use drones made by SZ DJI Technology Co. Ltd., a China-based drone manufacturer that seems welcome to the idea.

DJI spokesman Michael Perry said to Forbes, “We are very excited to see Walmart exploring this space… Our uniquely high-performance, easy-to-use and affordable aerial technology continues to make DJI the leading choice for businesses and consumers that want to develop innovative unmanned aerial applications.”

And Walmart certainly isn’t the only company trying to take advantage of drones.

“This technology got way ahead of our federal regulators,” said Michael Drobac from Small UAV Coalition. “Other countries are now further ahead in this than we are.”

Even American e-commerce company Amazon, which revealed its own drone delivery project in 2013, said the company would be ready use their drones “as soon as federal rules allow.”

Unfortunately, that day may be farther away than anticipated. Originally, the FAA expected to finish making the “regulatory framework for commercial drones” by September of this year, but it will take at least until 2016.