Autonomous delivery startup Nuro raises $600M at reported $8.6B valuation
Less than a year after closing its previous $500 million funding round, autonomous delivery startup Nuro Inc. today said that it has raised an additional $600 million to hire more employees and enhance its technology.
Google LLC, SoftBank Group Corp. and several others participated in Nuro’s latest round alongside Tiger Global, which was the lead investor. Nuro is now reportedly valued at $8.6 billion.
Nuro operates a growing fleet of autonomous delivery vehicles capable of ferrying items such as groceries and medicine from retail locations to consumers’ homes. The startup has carried out thousands of deliveries as part of a partnership with Kroger Co., which was also listed among the investors in the newly announced $600 million round. Earlier this year, Nuro teamed up with FedEx Corp. to evaluate whether its vehicles can be used for parcel logistics as well.
Nuro’s internally-developed autonomous delivery vehicle, the R2, navigates the roads using an artificial intelligence driving system and several different types of sensors that collect data about the environment. The R2 can ferry goods to consumers at a maximum speed of 25 miles an hour. Each vehicle is capable of carrying up to 400 pounds of merchandise.
The R2’s chassis design places a big emphasis on pedestrian safety. The vehicle is smaller than a car and, according to Nuro, has a specialized panel where the windshield would usually be that “absorbs energy” to protect pedestrians in the event of a collision. Redundant braking and control systems allow the R2 to continue operating reliably if one of its components malfunctions.
“The arrival of ubiquitous on-demand e-commerce is changing the way we access goods. Demand for local deliveries is exploding,” said Tiger Global Partner Griffin Schroeder. “Nuro is the bridge to an era of sustainable, low cost, autonomous local delivery.”
Nuro’s latest $600 million funding round comes only a few months after the startup announced plans to invest $40 million in a new manufacturing facility and a test track. That Nuro is expanding its manufacturing capabilities indicates that the startup plans to build vehicles at a faster rate, an effort the proceeds from the funding round could help advance. The test track, in turn, should boost the startup’s development efforts by providing an environment where updates to the R2’s autonomous driving software can be conveniently tested.
Autonomous driving systems use machine learning for many key tasks. Machine learning systems can be improved through training, which in an autonomous driving context means having the software make a large number of practice runs on real and simulated roads. Simulated driving environments are a useful complement to road tests because they give autonomous driving algorithms an opportunity to cover a larger distance than would be practical otherwise.
Nuro is partnering with Google to help it enhance its autonomous driving software. In conjunction with the news that the search giant contributed to Nuro’s funding round, the startup today announced a five-year strategic partnership with Google Cloud to help run its vehicle simulation workloads. The partnership will extend to a number of other areas as well, including data storage.
Nuro and Google additionally said that they will “explore opportunities together to strengthen and transform local commerce.” The partnership is particularly notable given that Google sister company Waymo is also developing technology for autonomous delivery. However, Waymo has so far focused its efforts mainly on trucks as opposed to compact vehicles such as Nuro’s R2.
The tech industry is pursuing multiple approaches to autonomous delivery. In parallel with its work on deploying self-driving trucks, Google operates a growing fleet of delivery drones through its Wing unit. Startup Starship Technologies Inc., meanwhile, is developing compact robotic couriers that can travel on sidewalks.
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