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Drone deliveries for Walmart raise hope for business, concerns for some

Walmart started delivering by drone in three cities late last year. While the advancement in tech has its perks, some are concerned about privacy and logistics.

FARMINGTON, Ark. — It feels like you can get anything delivered these days – food, clothing, even cars! Now companies are getting creative in how they do it and deliveries are moving from the back of a truck to the skies.

We're not talking planes though – drones are the latest and greatest tech to help get your packages to you, and it's happening right here in Arkansas.

Walmart started delivering by drone in three cities late last year: Farmington and Pea Ridge in Northwest Arkansas and another city in North Carolina. 

RELATED: Walmart to launch drone deliveries in Northwest Arkansas

It's a big deal for the industry and shows how much this has gone from a hobby to an actual business venture.

Jeremy Smith sells drones and other camera accessories at Bedford Camera in Little Rock. He's been building drones of his own for almost a decade and the ones he used to build don't look anything like they do now.

"So I said, 'Hey, let's build a drone and let's put a camera on it, start seeing how this camera works out,'" Smith said. "I had to build something big enough to actually hold a full-sized camera, because that was the only way to get good, usable quality. That meant for a much larger drone with less battery life and a lot more cost."

Since then, drones look more compact and are much easier to get into as a hobby or professionally. It's something Smith sees often.

"We see a lot more creative uses of the technology now than we did back then," he said. "Now that things are not so price prohibitive to get into."

It's an industry Walmart announced they were getting in on at the tail end of 2021, working to make deliveries with those drones.

"I think the pandemic actually accelerated delivery, but it's never going to be a replacement of visiting the store. It's probably going to be in addition to," Rachel Griffin, Director of Emerging Technologies for Last Mile Delivery, said.

As the retail giant looks to expand and develop this, they're still working through questions of privacy and logistics.

The FAA has rules about where you can and cannot fly, like around airports and stadiums.

"We work with both federal and local municipalities so we're in compliance with all local and federal laws," Griffin said.

One of the main points of concern for Smith is the cameras that are onboard.

Austin Pittman is the president of Bedford Camera and shares some of those concerns.

"I don't know that if I've got a swimming pool in my backyard, and you know, 16-year-old daughter sunbathing, I don't know that I want a drone flying over," Pittman said. "You know, there's definitely major, legitimate concerns."

We asked a manager for DroneUp, one of Walmart's partners who operates the Farmington location, how that was being addressed.

They say while the drone's camera does record in case of a crash, it's not likely that it can see anything in high quality. 

Another thing to keep in mind, DroneUp says there's only three times where an actual human has their hands on the controls.

Take-off, package drop-off, and landing. Everything else is automated.

When it comes to getting your package, there's also some issues they're working on that are common for all drones – wind and rain can keep these drones sidelined.

DroneUp said that since the technology is still relatively new, they're working on ways to keep them flying, and out of other people's yards.

RELATED: Drones help North Little Rock police catch criminals in the act

Outside of that, Walmart says they're focused on streamlining the whole process.

"A lot of times, what we're seeing at this site is less than thirty minutes from the time a customer places an order to the time they've received it," Griffin said. "We've identified a lot of efficiencies that we could have within that to get within 15 minutes."

Griffin said they'll go as fast as they can, all while following those rules and regulations.

"We're going to be really aggressive in rolling out, and so we're constantly evaluating which site makes sense and looking at the state of Arkansas," Griffin said.

And also hoping for tech acceptance moving forward.

"I think as time goes on, the drone technology will be pretty ubiquitous as well, in our world," Smith said. "I think it's going to be the norm, so to speak."

Griffin said the next plan for expanding the drone delivery service is opening locations in Rogers and Bentonville.

We reached back out to Walmart, along with the police departments for Farmington and Pea Ridge to see if there have been any issues with the drones so far, and are still waiting on a response.

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