The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) today issued a Nuro authorization permit to test the delivery of vehicles without drivers on public roads in a portion of the San Francisco Bay Area. This follows the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHS) decision. in February to give a company exemption of autonomous vehicles, which allows Nuro to drive R2 vehicles on the road without certain equipment needed for passenger vehicles. Perhaps more importantly, it happens when a vehicle without a driver is present proposed as a solution for supply chain strains caused by COVID-19.
While Nuro previously had the authority of the state of California to test autonomous vehicles on the road with driver safety, this new permit from DMV allows startups to test two light-duty delivery vehicles without the driver behind the wheel in nine cities in Santa Clara and San Mateo:
- East Palo Alto
- Los Altos
- Los Altos Hills
- Menlo Park
- Mountain View
- Palo Alto
Vehicles can only go up to 25 miles per hour and must operate in fair weather conditions on the road with a speed limit of no more than 35 miles per hour, according to the DMV.
“With current protection orders in place, and our top priority to safeguarding the safety of our own workforce, we will be actively involved in logistics planning for public road testing days to begin,” Nuro David Estrada’s head of law and policy wrote in a post the blog. “Our first plan is to do free shipping to certain customers in Mountain View and the surrounding area. This will allow us to launch formal shipping services in partnership with local brands and retailers. The next step in the California regulatory process is to apply for a full state-wide commercial distribution license to bring our services to California residents throughout the state. “
Nuro is the second company to receive a driver’s license in the state after Alphabet’s Waymo. The DMV approved regulations that allow light autonomous shipping vehicles weighing less than 10,001 pounds on December 16, 2019.
R2 Nuro, which was designed and assembled in the US in partnership with Michigan-based Roush Enterprises, features a smooth, rounded cabin with contours where rear-view mirrors can be placed to create space for cyclists and other “vulnerable” road users. The front end that protects pedestrians absorbs energy and can collapse inside, thanks in part to a redesigned door that provides more headroom and clearer access to the inside compartment. And the sensor array enables it to maintain a 360 degree street view at all times using a combination of thermal imaging cameras, RGB cameras, radars, short distance and ultrasonic, lidar sensors.
The large exterior screen allows customers to unlock and interact with various vehicle storage compartments. Speaking of the compartments, they are 22.38 cubic feet in size and they have temperature controls to keep perishable items, including food or food items, fresh. Under the hood, R2 has a 31kWh battery, excessive braking and control systems, automotive lighting and signals, and a sound generator for pedestrian safety. That all contributes to the weight of 1,150 kg (2.5 tons), as does the load, which can range up to 190kg (418 pounds).
Nuro was founded in 2016 by Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, both veterans of the secret Google self-driving car project which eventually turned out to be Waymo. The company, based in Mountain View, California, has about 400 employees and 100 contract workers and has so far deployed more than 75 delivery vehicles – a combination of Prius and R2 that can be driven alone.
For the better part of a year, the Prius Nuro fleet of vehicles in Houston, Texas has been shipping customers from partners including Kroger.
Nuro occupies an industry full of well-funded startups like Marble, Starship Technology, BoxBot, Dispatch, and Robby Technologies, to name just a few. Not to mention companies like Robomart, which announced plans to test the grocery store without a driver on wheels; Udelv, who partnered with Farmstead in the Bay Area to transport durable goods to the customer’s doorstep; Amazon, which just debuted Scoutautonomous shipping robot; and FedEx.
But Nuro has different advantages from significant venture capital support from Softbank. The Japanese parent conglomerate announced earlier this year that it had invested almost $ 1 billion – $ 940 million – in Nuro through its Vision Fund, valuing the company around $ 2.7 billion.
“The mission of the founder of Nuro, to accelerate the benefits of robotics for everyday life, has never felt more real to us than is happening today,” continued Estrada. “[T]The Pandemic COVID-19 has accelerated the public’s need for contactless delivery services. Our R2 fleet is specifically designed to change the nature of driving, and movement of goods, by allowing people to stay safe at home while their food, medicines and packages are brought to them.