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Walmart joins Amazon in race to use drones for home delivery

As Amazon continues to  tinker with its Prime Air drone with a view to one day using the machine to deliver packages to customers, Walmart has said it too wants to use the technology for the same purpose.

In a request made to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Monday, Walmart said that besides home delivery it also wanted to use drones for other purposes such as checking warehouse inventories, Reuters reported.

Like Amazon, Walmart is already conducting indoor drone tests, though instead of developing its own flying machine, the retail giant is using Phantom 3 and S900 copters built by China-based drone maker DJI.

Related: Amazon wants a chunk of airspace given over to delivery drones

Commercial use of drones is currently banned in the U.S., though more than 2,000 companies have so far been granted special FAA permits to use the remotely controlled machines for their work. The agency is currently devising a set of regulations that’s expected to pave the way for the widespread use of drone technology in a commercial environment, though it could be another eight months before they’re published.

At this stage Walmart is seeking permission to conduct drone tests outdoors, with a view to launching a service once regulations permit such use. However, with the FAA’s initial regulations expected to demand that drones must be kept in the operator’s line of sight at all times, a home-delivery system that uses autonomously operated copters flying over fairly long distances could still be several years away. That said, both Walmart and Amazon are clearly making moves toward the goal of one day transporting packages to customers living close to locations operated by each company.

Related: Amazon urges Congress to keep drone rules simple and nationwide

And while Amazon has been exploring the idea of drone-based deliveries longer than Walmart, the latter currently has a distinct advantage in that it has a vast network of stores and distribution centers already in place.

“There is a Walmart within five miles of 70 percent of the U.S. population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones,” Walmart spokesperson Dan Toporek told Reuters, adding, “Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centers, fulfillment centers, and transportation fleet.”