Walmart appears to be interested in getting involved at the supply level of the food business.
Reports are that, over the past year, the retail giant has applied for six patents that directly involve farm automation. Included are an application that uses machine vision to identify pests and monitor crop damage, drones that shoot targeted sprays of pesticides instead of a cloud and a robot bee. There's also the potential for drones to keep hungry birds away from crops, thereby reducing crop loss.
When asked about the patents, the company responded by saying, “We’re always thinking about new concepts and ways that will help us further enhance how we service customers, but we don’t have any further details to share on these patents at this time.”
With groceries comprising 56% of Walmart’s revenue, the technological advances could help the company further reduce costs and possibly speed goods to the consumer.
Increased transparency also has been suggested as a reason. In addition, the technology could allow for the monitoring of crop progress and translate into related adjustments at the retail level.
Controlling costs all the way down to the farm level may be one way that Walmart can gain an upper hand over rival Amazon. Still, analysts don’t expect Walmart to start owning farms anytime soon; a partnership of some kind is much more likely.
In total, Walmart has reportedly applied for 46 patents involving drones, and those largely have been for delivery, logistics or warehouse purposes.