H-E-B has partnered with self-driving vehicle developer Udelv to pilot a grocery delivery service in San Antonio.
For the test, H-E-B said it will source one autonomous delivery vehicle (ADV) known as “Newton” from Burlingame, Calif.-based Udelv to serve customers near its Olmos Park supermarket, just north of downtown San Antonio. Udelv reported that the pilot with the Texas grocer will begin in late 2019.
Customers of the Olmos Park store can sign up to receive deliveries from the Udelv vehicle during the test period, H-E-B said. The van has climate-controlled compartments that can hold multiple orders of fresh, frozen and dry groceries.
“At H-E-B, we continue to evaluate and utilize innovative technologies in all parts of our business,” said Paul Tepfenhart, senior vice president of omnichannel and emerging technologies at H-E-B and its Central Market division. “As a digital retail leader in Texas, we will continue to grow our partner population as well as technology presence to complement our store operations, enabling customers to choose how they shop, pay for and receive products.”
Udelv’s ADV can travel at city street and highway speeds. The companies said the van will carry a driver during the pilot’s first phase to evaluate its performance and, if the project is expanded, H-E-B will roll out the technology in phases to give it time to learn the safest, most efficient routes, eventually leading to the vehicle becoming completely driverless.
“Companies like H-E-B are taking the first steps to explore the benefits autonomous deliveries can bring to their customers and employees,” said Daniel Laury, CEO of Udelv. “H-E-B is an amazing partner for Udelv as we scale our Autodeliv service and work to make deliveries faster and safer. We look forward to serving the people of Texas with Newton, our second-generation ADV.”
Announced in January at the Consumer Electronics Show, Udelv’s Newton vehicle can hold up to 32 customer orders of varying sizes and travel at up to 60 mph with an operating range of about 400 square miles, compared with 18 fixed compartments, a top speed of 25 mph and a range of approximately 60 miles in the previous version. For last- and middle-mile delivery, the ADV has a payload capacity of more than 800 lbs.
Other retailers using Udelv’s technology include San Francisco-based online grocer Farmstead, which launched a delivery service with the ADVs last fall, and Walmart, which earlier this year said it’s piloting a Udelv-powered delivery service in Surprise, Ariz.
H-E-B noted that the trial with Udelv reflects its strategy to incorporate more technology-based services into its digital lineup. Besides last year’s acquisition of the Favor on-demand delivery service, the San Antonio-based grocer said it plans to expand its H-E-B Curbside and H-E-B Home Delivery online grocery services to over 200 locations by the end of the year. The retailer added that it also plans to expand H-E-B Go, a mobile solution that enables customers to scan and pay for their items with their smartphones.
Late last month, H-E-B opened its new Eastside Tech Hub innovation center in East Austin, Texas. Including staff at that facility and its San Antonio headquarters, H-E-B employs more than 5,500 digital partners companywide. The chain has about 340 stores in Texas and nearly 60 stores in Mexico.
“Our success starts with our people, who provide exceptional hospitality and drive us to open more engaging stores that offer a world-class shopping experience,” President Craig Boyan said, adding, “We’re adding necessary skills to become both a better tech company and even stronger brick-and-mortar retailer.”