Commercial Drones PilotsKroger pilots drones for last-mile grocery delivery

July 19, 2021by helo-10
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Dive Brief:

  • Kroger will begin delivering groceries via drone this spring, the company announced in a press release.
  • Autonomous drones made and piloted by Drone Express will begin test flights this week near a Kroger Marketplace in Centerville, Ohio, and move to delivering grocery orders from the store in the coming weeks. This summer, the test will expand to a Ralphs location in California.
  • With this latest technology investment, Kroger is following in the footsteps of Amazon and Walmart as it continues to build out its online fulfillment ecosystem.

Dive Insight:

Kroger noted the drones in its pilot program will be able to deliver groceries in as little as 15 minutes. They’ll zero in on consumers’ smartphones and bring the delivery to wherever they’re located — including a park, beach or backyard located within the drone’s flight range, the company noted.

The drones will be able to deliver up to 5 pounds of groceries, which puts the focus on small orders. Kroger said it will curate product bundles meeting the weight limit with options like a “S’mores bundle” with graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate; a child wellness bundle with over-the-counter medication and fluids; and a baby care bundle with formula and wipes. Drone Express licensed pilots will manage the flights from an on-site trailer, and the tech firm said it will provide additional off-site monitoring.

Optional Caption

Courtesy of Kroger

 

Established in 2018, Drone Express is a subsidiary of Telegrid, which has provided tactical communications equipment to the U.S. military and is one of 10 companies pre-approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to achieve airworthiness consideration for its DE-2020 unmanned aircraft.

The program marks Kroger’s speediest delivery offering yet at a time when many consumers want their groceries to get to them faster. Other retailers like Amazon, Walmart and Rouses Markets have begun piloting drone deliveries, putting pressure on Kroger to get involved. Walmart has filed numerous drone patents and is currently testing delivery in three states with separate drone companies while Amazon Prime Air last year got approval from the FAA to test drone delivery.

Proving that drone delivery isn’t just for the big players, Rouses began piloting drone deliveries in Mobile, Alabama, last fall with Deuce Drone.

The FAA has been under pressure to outline regulations specifically for commercial drone delivery. Earlier this year, new rules from the FAA went into effect that allow commercial drones to fly over people and at night in certain circumstances without requiring waivers from the agency.

But drone technology remains in its early stages, meaning widespread delivery of groceries by drone is still likely years away.

Kroger’s drone pilot announcement comes less than a month after it unveiled its Ocado automated warehouses, which are built to fulfill a large volume of orders with maximum efficiency. The company rallied $10 billion in digital sales last year and is seeking to establish leadership in the space as Walmart, Amazon and new players ramp up. Kroger is also testing driverless delivery with Nuro in Houston.



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