BY Fast Company 2 MINUTE READ

In just a few years, drones have gone from a futuristic, Jetsons-like idea to something that’s routinely delivering your Hamburger Helper.

Part of that success is thanks to drone operator DroneUp, which has been working with Walmart to get consumers in a handful of states their lightweight goods in as little as half an hour.

The partnership marks a new era of success for the company. Founded in 2016 by CEO Tom Walker, DroneUp uses a range of drones produced by third parties, and the model varies based on the client’s needs. Other clients and partners reportedly include Brookfield Properties, Quest Diagnostics, and NATO Allied Command.

Government agencies and companies are still figuring out where drones fit into daily life. Consumers, meanwhile, are starting to get used to seeing drones operate. As use cases emerge, one of the industry’s bright spots so far has come within the retail sector, which has long struggled with last-mile delivery logistics and supply chain efficiency options.

The new kind of delivery fulfills orders quickly and at a low cost, also allowing for fewer emissions when people need things like COVID-19 tests, diapers, or hot dog buns.

“When we started exploring drone delivery at DroneUp, we saw a tremendous opportunity to revolutionize a key component of the retail and logistics industry by offering a unique alternative to last-mile delivery,” Walker says.

“There was a clear need for a forward-thinking sustainable solution that complemented what was currently in place,” he adds. “Drones checked the box for everything needed to make last-mile delivery better for everyone—they are fast, efficient, safe, reduce greenhouse emissions, and rapidly becoming cost-effective for businesses to implement.”

DroneUp first partnered with Walmart late last year to offer on-demand delivery at three locations in Arkansas. Since then, Walmart and DroneUp have expanded their partnership to six states (Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah, and Virginia) to reach 4 million households. DroneUp declined to comment on the number of deliveries it’s done so far with Walmart.

DroneUp has set up a delivery hub at the participating stores, which includes a team of certified pilots that operate within FAA guidelines. The hubs operate seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to send eligible customers items. Consumers pay a $3.99 delivery fee and can order items totaling up to 10 pounds. “Simply put, if it fits safely it flies,” Walmart executive David Guggina said earlier this year when announcing the expanded partnership.

DroneUp is also working with customers in a number of other fields, including construction and insurance. In total, the company has more than 22,000 network pilots and has flown more than 101,000 hours.

“In 2023, we’re on track to continue expanding drone delivery to more states and communities while building out expanded drone service solutions for other industries like commercial real estate, construction, insurance, maritime, utilities, and more,” Walker says.

That means we could expect to see faster deliveries—and more crowded skies—in the not-too-distant future.