Autonomous delivery startup Nuro may offer commercial driverless services on public roads upon receipt of approval from the California State Department of Motor Vehicles – the first company to clear this hurdle.
Nuro, which was founded by Google alums Dave Ferguson in June 2016 and Jiajun Zhu plans to start commercial delivery operations early next year. With the so-called Autonomous Vehicle Provisioning Authorization, Nuro can operate commercial services in the counties of San Mateo and Santa Clara, that is, charge fees for delivery. The intention is to begin its autonomous Toyota Prius vehicles in one city and one partner in early 2021, said Nuro's chief legal and policy officer David Estrada. The company will eventually switch to its specially developed R2 delivery bots for its commercial service, as well as adding more partners and expanding geographically.
While Nuro wouldn't name the partner or the city, it's worth noting that the company is headquartered in Mountain View and has previously expressed a desire to start operations near its main office.
"The issue of the first operational license is an important milestone in the development of autonomous vehicles in California," said DMV director Steve Gordon in a press release published on Wednesday. "We will continue to keep driver safety in mind as this technology develops."
The permit grants Nuro permission to use a fleet of light driverless trucks for a commercial delivery service on roads in certain parts of counties Santa Clara and San Mateo, which include the cities of Atherton, East Palo Alto and Los Altos Hills. Los Altos, Menlo Park, mountain views, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale and Woodside, according to DMV. The vehicles have a maximum speed of 40 km / h and are only approved for operation in fine weather on roads with a maximum speed of 35 km / h.
The announcement closes a milestone year for Nuro, who announced on Wednesday that it has acquired self-driving truck startup Ike. Nuro raised another $ 500 million, raising the post-money valuation to $ 5 billion and securing some major wins in state and federal regulations.
Nuro has come a long and winding road to get the deployment permit. In 2017, California's DMV, the agency that regulates autonomous vehicles in the state, issued Nuro an AV test permit that required the company to have a human backup driver behind the wheel. Initially, the company used modified Toyota Prius sedans for testing and pilot food deliveries in Arizona and Texas.
The company switched to the R1 in December 2018, the first step towards a package-only vehicle. The second generation vehicle, the R2, was presented in February 2020. The R2, which was developed and assembled in the USA in cooperation with Roush Enterprises from Michigan, is equipped with lidar, radar and cameras to help the "driver". a 360 degree view of the surroundings. The important thing is that Nuro has received a driverless exemption from NHTSA for his R2 vehicle. The exemption allows the vehicle to operate even though it has no side mirrors, no windshield and no reversing camera, which switches off when driving forward.
Nuro received permission from CA DMV to test driverless vehicles in April 2020, which meant that his R2 delivery bots could finally be used on public roads. While dozens of companies have active permission with CA DMV to test autonomous vehicles with a driver for human safety, AutoX, Cruise, Nuro, Waymo and Zoox are the only companies allowed to test driverless vehicles on California's public roads.
However, Nuro was only able to invoice the delivery after receiving the deployment permit issued on Wednesday.
Nuro has a slightly cleaner path to commercial operations than autonomous vehicle manufacturers aiming to transport people in robotic taxi-like operations. Commercial driverless car rides must also obtain approval from the California Public Utilities Commission to transport passengers. Further additional approval from the CPUC is required in order to be able to bill journeys.
The permission to collect fees for journeys was only possible last month. The CPUC approved two new programs in November to allow accredited companies to offer and bill for shared rides in autonomous vehicles. The automated vehicle technology industry had campaigned for the CPUC for months to review the rule change that would allow operators to charge a fare and offer shared rides in driverless vehicles. While the decision has been widely welcomed, some in the industry have warned that the approval process could further delay commercial robotaxi operations.
Potential Robotaxi operators must obtain the appropriate permits from the CPUC and the California DMV and meet various reporting requirements. The participating companies must also submit a safety plan and quarterly reports to the CPUC with aggregated and anonymized information on the pick-up and drop-off points for individual journeys, the availability and volume of wheelchair-accessible journeys, service levels for disadvantaged communities and supply data such as the type of fuel used by the vehicles used, miles traveled and passenger miles traveled.