The Kroger Co. this week will begin a test of a drone-delivery program providing a strategic option to autonomously dispatch small bundles of goods by air to consumers’ homes—or wherever they happen to be.
The pilot, in partnership with Telegrid Technologies’ Drone Express service, is expected to commence test flights this week near the Kroger Marketplace in Centerville, Ohio, with plans to begin a second test at a Southern California Ralphs store this summer. The flights will be managed by licensed Drone Express pilots from an on-site trailer with additional off-site monitoring. Customer deliveries are scheduled to begin later this spring.
The Cincinnati-based retailer is positioning the drone test as an element of its “seamless” ecosystem, and its mission to provide customers with “anything, anytime, anywhere.” Because the drone can deliver not only to a specific home address but to the location of a cellphone—and comes with limits as to its payload—Kroger said it sees the option as a flexible solution for shoppers having a picnic in a public park, or in need of sunscreen at a beach.
Other retailers such as Walmart have also been experimenting with drone delivery in various communities. These options are primarily in support of small and lightweight “need it now” occasions where a trip to a store is less convenient and/or not supported by other current means of delivery.
Kroger said it was at work developing “bundles” of goods weighing less than 5 pounds to accompany potential drone deliveries, including a baby care bundle with wipes and formula, a child wellness bundle with over-the-counter medications and fluids, and a S’mores bundle with graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate.
“Autonomous drones have unlimited potential to improve everyday life, and our technology opens the way to safe, secure, environmentally friendly deliveries for Kroger customers,” said Beth Flippo, chief technology officer of Telegrid, a New Jersey-based technology company whose Drone Express business is one of only 10 companies pre-approved by the federal aviation authorities to achieve airworthiness consideration for its DE-2020 unmanned aircraft. “The possibilities for customers are endless—we can enable Kroger customers to send chicken soup to a sick friend or get fast delivery of olive oil if they run out while cooking dinner.”
Telegrid recently established a facility in Monroe, Ohio, as a hub for manufacturing, testing and piloting autonomous drones for commercial package delivery.
“Kroger’s new drone delivery pilot is part of the evolution of our rapidly growing and innovative e-commerce business—which includes pickup, delivery and ship and reached more than $10 billion in sales in 2020,” added Jody Kalmbach, group VP of product experience for Kroger, in a statement. “The pilot reinforces the importance of flexibility and immediacy to customers, powered by modern and efficient last-mile solutions. We’re excited to test drone delivery and gain insights that will inform expansion plans as well as future customer solutions.”
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