NEW YORK - US retail giant Walmart said Tuesday it is dramatically ramping up its drone deliveries, expanding the airborne service to six states by year-end with the potential to deliver one million packages annually.
The delivery network will broaden to 34 sites by the end of the year, "providing the potential to reach four million US households" in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah and Virginia, David Guggina, Walmart's senior vice president of innovation and automation, said in a statement.
"This provides us the ability to deliver over one million packages by drone in a year."
Walmart customers who order goods between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm and pay a delivery fee of $3.99 (3.75 euros) per order can have them delivered by air in as quickly as half an hour, the company said.
Each delivery can weigh a maximum of 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms). Tens of thousands of products are compatible with the service, including medicines, diapers and hot dog buns, according to Walmart.
The retail behemoth is using devices and technology from DroneUp, a start-up in which Walmart has invested.
Each participating store will house a drone delivery hub with a team of pilots cleared by the US Federal Aviation Administration to operate the unmanned aircraft.
By 2020, Walmart had announced a partnership with DroneUp as well as Flytrex and Zipline. Several projects have emerged, but their scale has remained limited until now.
By significantly accelerating its efforts, Walmart is seeking to position itself as a leader in the drone delivery market, a sector coveted by several major American operations including Amazon, Google parent company Alphabet and even shipping giant UPS.
Arkansas-based Walmart says it can strongly compete in the drone market due to a singular and major advantage: about 90 percent of Americans live within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of one of the nation's 4,700 Walmart stores.