H-E-B announced it would test an automated vehicle to bring groceries to customer homes later this year. The San Antonio grocer is partnering with San Francisco startup Udelv to provide the service to Olmos Park residents. Customers will be able to order groceries online to be delivered in climate controlled compartments on a human-free vehicle.
The move comes as pressure mounts from Walmart and Amazon owned Whole Foods to turn to technology to gain customers.
“We’re adding necessary skills to become both a better tech company and even stronger brick-and-mortar retailer,” said Craig Boyan, H-E-B president, in a statement. Boyan said the company was committed to its human staff and to hiring more people.
H-E-B launched Curbside service in 2015 — where customers order but still need to drive to a store. It launched one-hour home delivery and bought startup food delivery company Favor, in Feb. 2018. The services are now available at around 200 stores.
“Our evolution in this innovative space of shopping guided by how customers are choosing to shop,” said Julie Bedingfield, an H-E-B spokesperson.
During the first stage of the pilot — which doesn’t have an official start date— the vehicles will have a driver from Udelv for safety. They will also have an H-E-B representative. Ironically, this means there will be more humans involved in their automated delivery than their cars operated by Favor.
“We want to make sure we’re being methodical,” said Bedingfield. “We want to learn this technology inside and out.”
Customers will need to opt-in to the automated delivery service before it will be used. The ordering process is unchanged currently.
Udelv vehicles can drive unassisted up to 60 mph with over 800 lbs, fulfilling 32 orders, according to its website. If H-E-B decides to expand the pilot, people will be removed from the vehicle.
“You need to have a safety driver in the vehicle until you’re fully confident the technology is going to be safe for the public” said Daniel Laury, CEO of Udelv.
The company has completed 3,000 deliveries according to Laury, all of them with safety drivers present. He anticipated going without safety operators in 2020.
Udelv has partnered with Walmart in Pheonix to provide similar grocery pilot programs. H-E-B will be its first pilot in Texas along with a Houston auto parts dealer, XL.
Grocery giant Kroger launched a similar pilot with the Udelv competitor Nuro early this year.