Nuro gets permission to run its self-driving delivery vehicles on California’s roads
Nuro Inc. said today it has been granted permission to operate its autonomous delivery vehicles on California’s roads after receiving a permit from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
Nuro is one of the best-funded startups in the autonomous driving market, having raised about $1.5 billion in total, with its most recent $500 million funding round led by T. Rowe Price Associates in November.
The company is doing things a bit differently than its competitors. Rather than build autonomous driving technology for standard cars and trucks like most other players are doing, Nuro has created a self-driving delivery vehicle called the R2 (pictured) that is noticeably smaller than a car and has no steering wheels or seats inside, just a cargo bay with capacity for about 400 pounds of goods.
The R2 comes equipped with artificial intelligence software and an array of sensors, and uses thermal imaging cameras, radar, lidar and regular cameras to see the environment. The company claims the vehicle not only makes last-mile delivery logistics more efficient, but can also improve road safety as it has a maximum speed of just 25 miles per hour and a panel at the front that’s able to absorb the energy of any impact with a pedestrian.
Earlier this year, Nuro was granted permission by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to test its vehicle on public roads. It then launched pilot programs in three U.S. cities, including Houston, where it partnered with Domino’s Pizza Inc. to deliver restaurant orders.
The California DMV permit it received today allows Nuro to operate commercial delivery services within designated parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, including the cities of Atherton, East Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale and Woodside.
Nuro’s pilots have so far involved a fleet of autonomous Toyota Prius vehicles that run the company’s software, rather than the R2. The company’s chief legal and policy officer David Estrada said in a blog post that it intends to start operating with those vehicles in fully autonomous mode early next year, before transitioning to the purpose-built R2 vehicles at a later date.
Meanwhile, Nuro’s acquisition of Ike Robotics will enable it to “move faster on an ambitious mission to make people’s lives better with automated vehicles,” the company said.
Ike, which raised $52 million in funding in February 2019, already has a close relationship with Nuro. Ike notably started out in Nuro’s offices when it launched in 2018, and Nuro has been a minority stakeholder in the company since the beginning.
Ike also uses Nuro’s software, adding a customized layer on top of that platform to power autonomous trucks that deliver long-haul freight. So it’s pretty much the same concept as Nuro, only with bigger loads and longer distances.
Although Ike has tested some of its self-driving trucks (below) on public California roads, it has always had human drivers behind the wheel and would only operate in fully autonomous mode on highways, rather than on city streets.
Ike still hasn’t announced any kind of product either, though it claims on its website that when it does, it will be able to improve truck driver livelihoods, create jobs, reduce greenhouse emissions and improve transportation.
“Joining forces with Nuro will allow us to move faster on an ambitious mission to make people’s lives better with automated vehicles,” Ike Chief Executive Alden Woodrow said in a blog post announcing the acquisition. “We have already begun to work on integration of teams and technology, and we can’t wait for what’s to come in 2021.”
Woodrow and his two co-founders along with at least 55 employees will move over to Nuro. The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
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