The autonomous automotive services industry has a new player which will begin producing small driverless cars for delivering what the company calls ‘last-mile’ services like dropping-off groceries and picking-up take-away food.
Officially launching the company this year, Nuro's ex-Google engineer founders have been working on a bespoke self-driving car for the last two years with a crack team poached from Tesla, Waymo, GM, Google and Apple.
Codenamed R1, Nuro’s first driverless car is only 1 metre wide while sharing a similar length and height as a family SUV. Its narrow width will help pedestrians and other road users navigate around it while also being practical for parking in difficult locations.
“We started Nuro to make products that will have a massive impact on the things we do every day,” said Nuro co-founder Dave Ferguson.
“Our world-class software, hardware, and product teams have spent the past 18 months applying their expertise to deliver on this mission. The result is a self-driving vehicle designed to run your errands for you. It is poised to change the way that businesses interact with their local customers.”
Built from the ground up and using Nuro’s own patented driverless technology the ‘car’ weighs just 680kg and can carry a combined payload of up to 110kg, or about 122 large pizzas.
The R1 prototype looks similar to Google's defunct Firefly self-driving vehicle but without a driver's seat - even though it has a windshield.
The idea is that users will be able to dial up the service of an R1 using a mobile app and when it arrives a notification and code will give users access to the goods. Inside the vehicle consists of a battery, electric motor, computer and customisable space that can be tailored to suit a variety of goods from food to flowers.
The possible uses are vast and it provides a third-party an alternative to in-house autonomous delivery vehicles such as Amazon’s driverless delivery van and Domino’s partnership with Ford for a self-driving pizza 'guy'. Toyota also announced its similar e-Pallete concept at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show that promises similar functionality but on a larger scale, with competition in California's Silicon Valley also beginning to flourish.
The low overheads afforded by the Nuro prototype will help put autonomous driving solutions into the hands of small business where it can function on a smaller scale and will begin to replace services such as Uber Eats.
“We aspire to lead a new wave of robotics applications that make life easier for everyone and give us more time to do things we love,” said Nuro Co-founder Jiajun Zhu.
“We are living in extraordinary times where advancements in robotics, AI and computer vision are making it possible to imagine products and services that could not have existed just 10 years ago.”
Nuro has already been testing its technology on Californian roads with a fleet of six prototype vehicles and gained over $114 million in investment, with plans to begin production of the R1 in 2021.
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