Walmart has reportedly bought a series of new patents without any big announcements, which will help automate certain farming tactics and prevent crop damage by pests.
The report comes from an online research firm called CB Insights, and has since been picked up by several other news outlets. It states that Walmart has applied for six new patents all of which surround small, bee-sized drones that would identify and combat pests, monitor crop damage, spray pesticides and even pollinate crops in the way that bees currently do.
The autonomous drones would reportedly be equipped with state-of-the-art cameras and cameras, allowing them to identify crops and pests. The full applications of the devices is not yet fully known, but it has many wondering whether Walmart plans to branch into the agricultural industry.
The news comes at the same time as Walmart's announcement that it will expand its burgeoning grocery delivery service, bringing it to more than 800 stores by the end of the year. The retail giant hopes to be able to serve about 40 percent of households in the United States, according to a report by the New York Post.
Now, many are speculating that the secretive drone patents are a part of a long-term plan to control a greater part of the supply chain when it comes to the food market.
Drones designed to mimic the function of bees have existed for at least five years. The technology was first presented by Harvard University researchers in 2013 as "RoboBees." At the time, the tiny robots could hover or fly in midair, but they needed to be attached to a power source. More recent models can stick to surfaces like most insects, but can also swim underwater, and dive in and out of liquid environments freely. Walmart has not yet announced its intentions for the patents.
Walmart has maintained an usual place in the headlines recently, as the company announced at the end of February that it was changing its store policy on gun sales. The retailer decided to stop selling guns to anyone under the age of 21.
The move was met with a storm of controversy, though in reality, it wasn't much of a change for Walmart. The store hasn't carried the AR-15 assault rifle since 2015, when it decided to take the weapon out of its inventory. It also hasn't sold hand guns for some time either, except in certain states, such as Alaska.