Walmart plans to check its inventories using drones within 9 months

We've heard about Walmart's drone delivery ambitions off and on for months; back in October 2015, the company asked the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to test delivery drones. Now, according to the company, it is possibly only half a year away from using drones to check the inventories in its warehouses, the first step in what will likely be a much larger utilization of UAVs in coming years.

The drones will be used in warehouses in the United States starting in 6 to 9 months, one of three possible uses for which the company sought permission. The other two — which are far more ambitious and won't be happening any time soon — would be using drones for curbside pickups and to deliver packages to someone's home.

Speaking to Reuters, Walmart VP of Last Mile and Emerging Sciences Shekar Natarajan said: "We are still in early phases of testing and understanding how drones can be better used in different types of business functions." In the case of warehouses, a human-operated drone will be used to fly down inventory aisles, taking images with a camera of products and (presumably sending them to a separate system) alerting workers about low product inventories or products that have been placed in the wrong area.

Using drones in this way will make for more efficient warehouses, reducing the amount of tedious work humans must perform by nearly automating a vital function in a way that is much quicker than before. Walmart will be using drones and technology that have been made specifically for the company to perform these tasks, though it isn't clear which manufacturer made the products.

Amazon has also announced ambitious drone goals, being the first company to legitimately entertain the idea of drone-based deliveries. While it would be neat to get a delivery from a drone rather than having to wait for the mail truck to show up, that future is still a long way off. Regulatory hurdles are the biggest factor slowing down such complex drone systems, though it would take quite a large infrastructure and technological improvements to make mass-scale drone deliveries feasible.

Such notions also raise concerns about machines replacing humans — when autonomous GPS-guided drones are making most of our deliveries, far less human drivers will be needed, no doubt resulting in slashed job numbers.