Downtown San Antonians will have a chance to co-pilot H-E-B’s test of a new grocery delivery service from a Udelv vehicle with self-driving technology.
H-E-B, which has headquarters in San Antonio, is inviting select customers near its store in Olmos Park, to sign up to receive deliveries from an autonomous vehicle during the pilot test period. The retailer will deploy one autonomous delivery vehicle (ADV) from Burlingame, Calif.-based Udelv, whose ADV has climate-controlled compartments that hold multiple orders of fresh, frozen and dry goods, and can travel at city street and highway speeds.
H-E-B’s preliminary test with the self-driving van—which follows The Kroger Co.’s foray in the past year with an expanded fleet of Nuro autonomous grocery delivery vehicles in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Houston—is one of several initiatives it is investing in to enhance its digital offerings in Texas to better meet the evolving needs and expectations of its customers.
The Udelv trial is part of the 400-store regional retailer’s efforts to integrate more technology-based services into its playbook, which includes its wholly owned subsidiary Favor, an on-demand delivery service; H-E-B Curbside; H-E-B Home Delivery, which is expected to be at more than 200 locations by year’s end; and H-E-B Go, a mobile solution that allows people to scan and pay for their items with their phones.
“At H-E-B, we continue to evaluate and utilize innovative technologies in all parts of our business,” Paul Tepfenhart, SVP of omnichannel and emerging technologies for Central Market and H-E-B, said in a release.
H-E-B’s initial ADV will have a driver during the first phase of the pilot, and if deemed successful, the initiative will be expanded with a multiphase rollout "to give the technology time to learn the safest, most efficient routes, which will eventually lead to the ADV becoming fully driverless,” according to the retailer.
“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.”
Like its earlier initiatives noted above, the latest iteration of H-E-B’s innovative technology adoption will also help increase customer convenience, reduce costs and streamline operational efficiencies—but not at the expense of cutting jobs or reducing its commitment to service, according to officials.
As the largest privately-held employer in Texas, H-E-B President Craig Boyan said that people will continue to play a major role throughout the company’s business.
“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,” said Boyan. “We’re committed to winning through people and hiring more people, and we’re adding necessary skills to become both a better tech company and even stronger brick-and-mortar retailer.”
Tepfenhart furthered Boyan’s remarks by noting, “As a leading 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.”