H-E-B Tests Driverless Vans in San Antonio to Deliver Groceries

Autonomous Delivery Vehicle for H-E-B’s test pilot to deliver groceries in San Antonio in partnership with udelv, a California-based maker of the vans. Photo courtesy of H-E-B

A robot rolling down the road bringing butter, milk, and eggs.

That’s on the horizon for San Antonio-based H-E-B. Texas’ largest grocer announced Wednesday plans to use an autonomous van to deliver groceries in San Antonio.

The pilot program will roll out later this year.

Customers in Olmos Park, north of downtown San Antonio, will be able to order from the Olmos Park H-E-B and get their groceries delivered in an autonomous van. It’s the first test market for the new driverless delivery technology. Initially, the van will have a driver

but will eventually become completely driverless, according to H-E-B.

H-E-B is not the first grocer to turn to driverless technology to deliver milk, eggs, bread, and ground beef. Last December, Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery chain, rolled out autonomous delivery in Arizona. It is working with Nuro, based in Mountainview, Calif., according to the Associated Press.

And Kroger’s Nuro driverless vans are coming to Houston this year, according to a story in The Verge.

In a blog post on the H-E-B website, the grocery company reported that “people will continue to play a major role throughout the company’s business.” H-E-B, with 116,000 employees, is the largest private employer in Texas.

“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,” Craig Boyan, H-E-B President, said in a blog post. “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.”

H-E-B is partnering with Udelv, a California-based company that creates Autonomous Delivery Vehicles, which are outfitted with temperature-controlled compartments for fresh, frozen and dry goods. The autonomous vans also travel at city street and highway speeds.

“Companies like H-E-B are taking the first steps to explore the benefits autonomous deliveries can bring to their customers and employees,” Daniel Laury, CEO of Udelv, said in a blog post . “As the most loved retailer in Texas, H-E-B is an amazing partner for Udelv as we scale our AutodelivTMservice and work to make deliveries faster and safer. We look forward to serving the people of Texas with Newton, our second-generation ADV.”

H-E-B is beefing up its digital efforts and this pilot is part of that effort. The company recently opened a new Digital Technology Hub in East Austin. That came about after it bought Favor, an on-demand digital delivery service last year. It was the first acquisition in the company’s 114-year history.

H-E-B also offers H-E-B Curbside, which allows customers to order their groceries in advance and pick them up at the store and H-E-B Home Delivery, which delivers groceries to a customer’s house. And H-E-B has created 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,” said Paul Tepfenhart, Senior Vice President of Omnichannel and Emerging Technologies at Central Market and H-E-B. “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.”