With thousands of companies applying for permission to use drones for commercial purposes, you might be asking yourself if you'll need to fire up your own drone division one day soon.

On Monday Walmart became the latest big-name company to petition the Federal Aviation Administration for approval to test drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, for a range of functions including home delivery. Walmart already has been using drones inside its warehouses and stores.

Tech giants Amazon, Facebook, and Google all have petitioned the FAA for permission to fly drones, and many others already have received it, including Warren Buffett's BNSF Railroad, Chevron, and State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance. In total, the FAA has granted 2,020 permits.

As the technology has advanced, drones have rapidly moved from the realm of science fiction to a viable element of a range of businesses. Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Commerce, an e-commerce solutions provider that owns FreeShipping.com, says the most interesting thing about Walmart's application is the reaction from the general public.

"A year ago Jeff Bezos went on 60 Minutes and talked about how Amazon was going to use drones for delivery and everyone thought he was crazy," he says. "You can now see how quickly people have realized the value of drones to optimize business."

Does this mean without a drone division your business will eventually get left in the dust? Not so fast. Caporaso says there's a lot that still needs to be settled in this field before a drone-filled business landscape will be upon us. In the meantime, it's worth keeping an eye on how the petitions from Amazon, Google, and Walmart turn out.

"These guys are navigating the FAA's policies," he says. "Small businesses should let the big boys knock down the walls." 

Below, listen to to an episode of the Inc. Uncensored podcast about the many companies that have applied to the FAA to use drones.


Published on: Oct 27, 2015