The retailer demonstrated its latest technology at a media event Thursday ahead of its shareholders meeting on Friday. The drones fly around the warehouse scanning the shelves of merchandise to make sure the items are stored in the right spots. Wal-Mart didn’t allow images to be taken of the drones at work.
If a product is in the wrong place, an employee is notified and sent to restock the item. The idea is to improve employee efficiency. Inventory checking by an employee takes a month to finish manually. A drone can do the job in one day.
Wal-Mart applied to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration this past October for the ability to test drones outdoors. The company also believes it could use drones to track merchandise, like taking inventory in trucks outside of the distribution centers.
The main idea is to save money. Wal-Mart is also using hydrogen fuel-cell powered forklifts that save on buying gas and charge faster than electric batteries. In addition to that, the Arkansas distribution center is using a new label process with a machine that sorts and labels 700 units in an hour. Using the old method of workers sorting and labeling by hand meant only 200 to 300 items were processed per hour.
Not only is the discount retailer trying to save money, it’s also trying to remain competitive. Wal-Mart is working hard to compete with Amazon’s high-tech warehouses, which employ robots to fulfill orders. Amazon last year received FAA approval to test a drones and earlier this year its chairman Jeff Bezos revealed the web giant was testing delivery drones in Canada, the U.K., and the Netherlands.