Convenience has become the ultimate commodity. People are either too busy or too lazy to do, buy, and get things themselves. As a result, delivery and shipping services have been undergoing a bit of a reinvention of late. Those who are in served areas can have virtually anything brought to them with a few clicks on their smartphones. But an increase in demand for such deliveries means a commensurate increase for people and resources to get the job done. A new tech startup called Nuro hopes to meet this demand with its small electric self-driving delivery vehicle.
Similar to Toyota’s e-Palette, which is a modular autonomous platform for mobile storefronts or deliveries, Nuro’s vehicle acts as the link between stores and consumers on a local level. Although some companies such as Amazon have explored the use of drones for these types of delivery services, Nuro is staying on the ground and already has a working prototype (internally named R1).
The project, which has raised $92 million in Series A funding over two rounds, is spearheaded by two former Google engineers, Jiajun Zhu and Dave Ferguson, who believe shuttling goods rather than people to be a quicker-to-market strategy for Nuro. The R1 has been developed specifically for close-range local commerce, not highway trips, so the radar and lidar are programmed for low-speed interactions. Because no humans are aboard, it also holds the advantage of choosing self-destruction in order to save pedestrians or avoid other crashes.
While there’s the old trope about some cars being appliances on wheels, we might finally have an example that rings perfectly true. Nuro’s miniature van is literally shaped like a toaster, and with no signs of life inside it’s simply a mobile machine with a wheel at each corner. According to Nuro, it’s about half the width of a typical passenger sedan but has a tall stature, with a large camera and sensor located atop a handle-like arch that spans the roof and gives it a shopping-basket vibe.
On the traditional passenger side, there are two compartments so that the pod can make multiple deliveries at once. The cabinets are customizable for varying purposes, from bake-while-driving pizza to cooled ice-cream transportation to hanging dry-cleaning deliveries. Nuro says each locker can hold up to 10 standard grocery bags.
Given that the R1 is still conceptual, Nuro has yet to announce any official specs but does say that it will feature fully electric powertrains. In-service time will vary depending on usage, but Nuro says that “at most, it will operate for a whole day.” If the rollout proceeds as planned, the first production vehicles will start delivering goods by the end of this year.