Can H-E-B win the autonomous delivery vehicle race in Texas?
When a van delivery from regional grocer H-E-B arrives at a customer’s house, there might not be anyone in the driver’s seat — if things work out with a planned pilot.
The grocer has announced the pilot of a delivery vehicle that uses self-driving technology, according to Inside Unmanned Systems. A driver is on board during its initial one-vehicle run, but if the pilot proves successful, the grocer plans to expand the number of vehicles and the range of the delivery area, eventually relying on a fully-automated driverless system.
H-E-B is joining the fray of grocers trying to perfect delivery via self-driving vehicles. While there has not been a mass adoption of the technology thus far, successful pilots of autonomous delivery by larger grocery chains may be pushing others to stay on top of the technology in order to remain competitive.
Last year, Kroger announced a pilot for same-day and next-day deliveries via driverless car. In March of this year, it expanded the pilot to four zip codes in Houston, according to VentureBeat.
While the large-scale implementation of autonomous vehicle technology remains somewhere off in the future, advancements in unmanned automobiles are making a driverless U.S. look less like the stuff of science fiction. Depending on how such vehicles are implemented, they promise major changes, not just to the way packages are delivered, but to the transportation infrastructure itself.
Grocers could hit hurdles in the short term. Using full-sized autonomous vans for delivery purposes — as opposed to smaller, slower robots on sidewalks — raises the level of potential efficiency but also the potential danger. Chains may run up against regulatory restrictions on driverless vehicles, which vary by state.
Despite the potential downsides, grocers continue to pilot autonomous vehicles tests and not just for the last mile. Walmart recently began piloting the use of autonomous vans for delivery of products between warehouses, stores and pickup points, with an eye towards streamlining its increasingly complex omnichannel supply chain.
Even larger autonomous vehicles have been piloted for bigger tasks. In 2016, an autonomous 18-wheeler successfully delivered 50,000 cans of beer over a 120-mile distance.
- H-E-B Grocery to Test Delivery Service from Vehicle with Self-Driving Technology – Inside Unmanned Systems
- Kroger to deliver groceries using driverless cars – RetailWire
- Will autonomous vans help Walmart win the middle mile logistics race? – RetailWire
- Nuro expands Kroger driverless deliveries to Houston – VentureBeat
- Driverless truck delivers 50,000 cans of Bud on supply run – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What will be the determining factor(s) if/when autonomous delivery tech is rolled out on a widespread basis? Do you think it is important for regional grocery chains to begin testing self-driving technology or are the restrictions and potential legal concerns too great?