Auto parts distributor to try using self-driving vans for deliveries

Dec. 21, 2018
Texas-based aftermarket automotive parts distributor XL Parts has signed a deal to test out autonomous deliveries using self-driving cargo vans from Udelv.

Texas-based aftermarket automotive parts distributor XL Parts has signed a deal to test out autonomous deliveries using self-driving cargo vans from Udelv. XL Parts' plan is to start with one of Udelv's vans in about mid-2019 and get ferrying parts around Houston.

The van will have a "safety driver" ready to take the wheel during the trial, should the need arise. But the vehicle otherwise will be able to handle "all driving functions under certain conditions" within a specific area on its own.

If the test goes well, XL Parts could add up to another nine of the self-drivers to its distribution runs in the city. But they'll have chaperones (safety drivers) along for the ride until "until both companies and regulators deem them approved for safe driverless operation."

Udelv has demonstrated the use of its small vans in simulated fully autonomous delivery with things like groceries and noted this deal with XL Parts shows the potential range of goods the vans could handle. Like other self-driving vehicles, these compact cargo vans use GPS, scores of actuators, and video cameras and other sensors to detect vehicles, pedestrians, and other objects and obstacles on the road and respond to them.


"We've conducted over 1,000 deliveries on public roads with a safety driver already in the San Francisco Bay Area on behalf of more than a dozen paying clients, and we're ready to bring the same benefits to the Texas community," said Udelv CEO Daniel Laury.

Mike Odell, president and CEO of XL Parts, explained that his company delivers more than 10,000 parts to Houston auto service and repair shops every day. "Most of the time we do it in about 30 minutes—to do that requires millions of parts in stock, precise timing, hundreds of vehicles, and a large investment in technology," he said. 

The Udelv autonomous delivery trial "allows us to advance our business and to understand the future of our industry at the same time," he added. Beyond Houston, XL Parts operates in other areas of the state as well as Oklahoma and Louisiana.

About the Author

Aaron Marsh

Before computerization had fully taken hold and automotive work took someone who speaks engine, Aaron grew up in Upstate New York taking cars apart and fixing and rewiring them, keeping more than a few great jalopies (classics) on the road that probably didn't deserve to be. He spent a decade inside the Beltway covering Congress and the intricacies of the health care system before a stint in local New England news, picking up awards for both pen and camera.

He wrote about you-name-it, from transportation and law and the courts to events of all kinds and telecommunications, and landed in trucking when he joined FleetOwner in July 2015. Long an editorial leader, he was a keeper of knowledge at FleetOwner ready to dive in on the technical and the topical inside and all-around trucking—and still turned a wrench or two. Or three. 

Aaron previously wrote for FleetOwner. 

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