California-based Udelv is a driverless delivery company that uses modified GEM el XD electric trucks to deliver goods in urban areas with the help of a back-up driver. The vehicles are remotely controlled and dispatched, and are capable of Level 4 autonomous driving. The company has contracted with customers to deliver groceries, and one NAPA store has also tested the solution for auto parts delivery. CEO and founder Daniel Laury spoke to Aftermarket Business World about the solution.
Q. Why driverless delivery? Why do you think this is a good business opportunity?
Because the current experience of delivery is not a great experience. In some cases, when it’s grocery shopping, for instance, the shop will say they will deliver on Saturday between 6 and 9 pm, and most of the time they will come at 7:55. But one time out of 20 they will come at 6, so you have to sit around for three hours waiting for something to happen.
If they can’t find you or require a signature, they may slip the sheet under the door and then you have to call them back and go get your package. The consumer experience is not great. With driverless vehicles, you can make an appointment with the machine. It’s more like getting a haircut. You tell them you want something delivered at 6:15 at any location, not just your home.
On the merchant side, the management of trucks and drivers is getting more and more complex and costly in the U.S., and so we believe that on the merchant side and the shipping side, this will facilitate better logistics.
Q. What vertical markets is this best suited for?
Initially we thought that groceries would be the best market. Our first client was a supermarket in the Bay Area called Draeger’s, and we are doing deliveries for them on a daily basis. Other types of merchants started calling on us, and we have diversified our base of customers. We have a few restaurants and pharmacies, and we’ve worked with some auto parts clients.
Q. Do the back-up drivers require special licensing?
They need to be registered with the DMV in Sacramento. They also have to be trained, so there is a special training program that has been approved by the state. When we onboard a drier they have to go through a training program and be registered in California and have a background check. This helps fleet managers know their employees have clean backgrounds.
Q. What’s the benefit of having remote control of the vehicles?
We’re one of the most advanced companies as far as that’s concerned. The remote control is a good back-up when the vehicle doesn’t know what to do. If there is a truck stopped in the middle of a lane, you don’t know whether it's stopped for three seconds or for a long time. The computer is programmed to never cross a double yellow line. So after a certain number of minutes we get an alert, turn on the cameras remotely and then we drive the vehicle to get it out of that situation. There are also still areas with no GPS signal, so the remote control helps us operate the vehicle in those locations.