Autonomous vehicle startup udelv has partnered with Texas-based grocery chain HEB to run a self-driving delivery pilot in the San Antonio area, according to TechCrunch. The HEB agreement adds to udelv’s customer roster, which also includes Walmart and online grocer Farmstead.
The pilot will start with one of udelv’s second-generation Newton self-driving cargo vehicles. Udelv vans come equipped with compartments to store goods or, in this case groceries. Once loaded at the store, the vehicle autonomously travels to its delivery destination (there’s a human on-board for safety) where the user can unlock the compartment with their phone to retrieve their groceries.
If you’re interested in getting your groceries via a self-driving car, Texas is the place to be. In addition to the forthcoming HEB/udelv partnership, earlier this year, Kroger expanded its self-driving grocery delivery via Nuro vehicles to Houston.
The whole self-driving grocery delivery space is just getting off the ground, and exactly what it will ultimately look like remains to be seen. Udelv uses full-sized cargo vans for its deliveries. Nuro uses low speed pod-like vehicles that are half the size of normal cars. Meanwhile, Robomart, which also uses pod-like low-speed vehicles, has partnered with Stop&Shop not for deliveries but to drive around mobile mini-stores that sell various groceries autonomously on the spot.
Vehicles like udelvs have a long delivery range, but their high-speed and heavy mass may encounter more regulatory hurdles as lawmakers learn to cope with self-driving vehicles. Smaller, low-speed vehicles may have an easier time with local laws, but won’t be able to travel as far or as fast.
Hanging over all of this innovation, however, is the question of whether or not customer want autonomous delivery. Once a vehicle arrives at your house, you still have to go out to the curb and lug heavy bags into the house, which can be a pain if you live up a bunch of stairs or are infirmed. That’s one reason why AutoX, which uses regular self-driving sedans for its deliveries and mobile commerce, moved more towards restaurant delivery.
Despite its drawbacks, self-driving delivery has its advantages too. With no humans (eventually) to pay, deliveries can happen around the clock, and software-determined driving, which keeps track of all kinds of data along its path, can make for more efficient routing and delivery.
If you’re a HEB customer in Olmos Park, TX, tell us if you chose self-driving grocery delivery, and how it went.