Walmart’s latest challenge with its drone delivery system is gun owners shooting packages out of the air

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Shannon Nash, CFO of Alphabet’s drone delivery company Wing, called 2024 “the year of the drone,” as retailers like Walmart and Amazon trial the grocery-carrying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Not everyone agrees.

Florida resident Dennis Winn admitted to shooting down a Walmart drone with a 9 millimeter handgun last week near his home, according to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. A bullet hole was found in the drone’s cargo. Winn was charged with shooting at an aircraft, criminal mischief damage over $1,000, and discharging a firearm in public or residential property, the sheriff’s department said.

According to the arrest affidavit, the drone belonged to DroneUp, a UAV company that works with Walmart to deliver online orders. Crew members from the company were in the cul-de-sac outside Winn’s house to receive the drone, which was making a mock delivery to generate attention as part of a marketing effort. One of the crew members told the deputy he was allowed to operate the UAV because the company has the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval.

Winn had seen other drones fly over his property before and believed they were surveilling him, according to the affidavit. He shot the DroneUp UAV while it hovered about 75 feet in the air, and the company’s crew found a bullet hole in it after it returned to a nearby Walmart. The crew estimated damages to the technology to be worth $2,500.

“I then told him that he had struck a Walmart drone,” a detective said in the affidavit. “The defendant looked in disbelief and questioned, ‘Really?’”

Winn was aware of Walmart’s drone technology, the affidavit said, and had previously complained about drones to his homeowners’ association, but not to law enforcement. 

Winn’s attorney, Scott Herman, told Fortune he disagrees with the description of the events in the affidavit. Herman said the drone was hovering directly above his client’s property for an extended period of time at a low altitude with no markings that suggested it belonged to Walmart. He believes additional evidence will show his client was acting “legally and lawfully on his property.”

This isn’t the first time an armed person has shot down a drone in the U.S., with similar stories reported in North Carolina, California, and Kentucky, albeit not with retail delivery drones. Still, when Amazon began to expand its drone deliveries to rural California in 2022, some locals responded with threats of archery “target practice” with the technology. As Walmart touts its “sky-high ambitions” to expand its UAV delivery capabilities, it creates potential for more incidents like this to happen.

Walmart and DroneUp did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

Retail drones are ready for take-off

Walmart has started to rely more heavily on drone deliveries as it expands its e-commerce capabilities to compete with Amazon’s similar services, announcing in 2022 its partnership expansion with DroneUp—which it partially owns—to 34 sites across six states. The expansion gave Walmart the potential to deliver orders via drone to 4 million customers, with the goal of 1 million deliveries in a year. The retailer has used Alphabet-owned Wing’s drone services since August 2023, first operating 11 hubs in the Dallas area.

But it’s not just big-box stores taking advantage of UAVs to expedite deliveries. Chick-fil-a and 7/11 also use DroneUp technology, and DoorDash uses Wing’s technology. UAV deliveries are expensive—$38 a trip, according to DroneUp CEO Tom Walker—but that cost is likely to decrease as more tech companies join the fray. It helps the UAV delivery cause that the FAA has authorized more companies to operate drones beyond the visual line of sight, which allows the drone to operate in areas where its unmanned crew can’t see it, expanding delivery perimeters.

Despite snafus like the incident in Florida, retail drones are perfectly safe, Walker argued.

“We’ve made hundreds of thousands of deliveries to date, around 6,000-7,000 a month in the United States alone, and have not had one single accident or injury,” he told USA Today in April. 

Already becoming more commonplace, the drones have gained loyalty among a sliver of customers. Wing CEO Nash, confident about the future of the industry, said the top 25% of customers have been using drone delivery three times a week, and a report from the company found 74% of customers had favorable views of drone delivery.

“We are building a safe, reliable, efficient drone delivery system that is capable of getting to those millions,” Nash told Bloomberg last year. “And so this is the journey that we’re taking.”

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