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There’s been a lot of talk about drones, lately. From their use in security and property monitoring to their new role as airborne camera operators for filming large events and/or sports games, even as targets for impromptu off-road races (no, really), drones have become a prominent part of many different industries and companies all throughout the world.


Surprised as you may be to learn, this also applies to the warehousing & retail industries. Many different companies have been finding ways to introduce drones into their standard operations to streamline processes and find ways to work smarter – and safer – than ever before.


One of the most prominent adopters of drones in the warehouse has been retail giant Walmart. Within the last few years (as of this writing), Walmart has been looking into ways to implement drones to help with inventory control, counts, and management to better use their available manpower and increase safety in the workplace.


Walmart’s current practice in their many retail product distribution centers is for an individual worker to travel the aisles manually counting each inventory piece and scanning packaging labels by hand to count the products within. In order to reach some of the taller shelves and pallet racks workers would have to use cumbersome ladders or, in extreme cases, stand on a forklift as they’re raised, which creates a dangerous working environment.


But now, drones are being used to take over this time-consuming and potentially hazardous role. The company has been testing the procedure of using drones to fly up and down between the rows of industrial storage taking up to 30 images per second of the inventory contained within, as well as scanning the UPC and SKU codes on the sides of each box to better measure the current inventory levels vs. what’s being reported to the system. A nearby control tower oversees the images on a screen and sends alerts to the workers when items are out of stock and/or stocked incorrectly so the problem can be corrected.


Other companies have been adopting drones for similar usage. Car manufacturer Daimler recently unveiled a plan to introduce more drones throughout their auto part distribution centers for better product tracking and location, including in their automotive storage yards for added security and better tracking of available on-hand inventory. A number of other manufacturers are expected to follow suit.


Of course, there’s still a bit of a ways to go before the use of drones becomes fully widespread and accepted. The Federal Aviation Administration is currently rolling out their guidelines for the use of drones in the workplace, and as these guidelines are put into place and the technology becomes more accessible you’re likely to see drones streamlining even more warehouse operations – maybe even yours!

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