Walmart-Amazon race takes to skies with blimp warehouse patents

19 Aug 2017


Walmart has applied for a US patent for a warehouse in the sky, which could make deliveries to shoppers' homes by way of drones, in what is seen as the big-box retailer's latest move to take its ecommerce business to the next level.

Bloomberg first reported the news Friday, while the patent was first submitted in February.

The machine, similar to a blimp, would fly at heights between 500 feet and 1,000 feet (305 metres), contain multiple launching bays, and be operated autonomously or by a remote human pilot. Amazon was granted a patent for a similar vessel in April 2016.

The patent talks of "Gas-filled carrier aircrafts and methods of dispersing unmanned aircraft systems in delivering products."

It goes on to say, "In a modern retail environment, there is a need to improve the customer service and / or convenience for the customer. One aspect of customer service is the availability of products. The availability of products is dependent in part on the distribution of products. There are numerous ways to distribute and deliver products. Getting the product to a delivery location, however, can cause undesirable delays, can add cost and reduce revenue."

A representative from Walmart didn't immediately respond to CNBC's request for additional comment.

Walmart and Amazon have been increasingly treading on each other's turf - with Walmart growing its digital presence, and Amazon beefing up its real estate portfolio in planning to acquire grocery chain Whole Foods.

In October, Walmart filed for another patent that tread on Amazon's turf, according to data provider CB Insights. This time, it was for a system similar to the internet giant's Dash buttons, which reorder everyday goods seamlessly in one click.

Walmart reported second-quarter earnings on Thursday, revealing that its digital sales climbed 60 percent for the period. After the big-box retailer acquired last September, it brought on the website's founder, Marc Lore, to lead Walmart's ecommerce division.

A floating warehouse would allow Walmart or Amazon to serve a wider distribution area than their current real estate allows. Now, the race is on to see which company can make the technology work before the other.

Earlier this week, Target announced plans to acquire Grand Junction, a technology transportation company that will speed Target's same-day delivery service to more homes.

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