Nuro showed up Wednesday, one of the last elements of its autonomous delivery business strategy.
The startup, which has raised more than $ 2.13 billion since former Google engineers Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu founded the company in June 2016, has unveiled a third-generation electric autonomous delivery vehicle designed for commercial operations and manufactured in partnership with BYD North America.
Nuro has abandoned the alphanumeric nomenclature (R1 then R2) for this delivery bot designed to transport packages, not people. Instead, the vehicle is called “Nuro” – a sort of eponymous album meant to introduce the robot to the masses and a name that illustrates where this flagship model is located within the company. If it’s not clear, the “Nuro” is on top.
The Nuro bot is not a curbside delivery bot. This new generation and all previous versions of Nuro are intended for the road.
The new “Nuro” bot, which has twice the cargo volume of the previous model, customizable storage, and temperature-controlled compartments to keep items warm or cool, is a production-grade automotive vehicle. This means the bot is designed and produced to handle the tasks a delivery vehicle might expect, including weather, potholes, human abuse, and long hours on the road.
The Nuro delivery robot also contains safety features, designed to protect people such as pedestrians and cyclists who might encounter the vehicle. The vehicle is equipped with several types of sensors, including cameras, radars, lidar and thermal cameras to provide a 360-degree view with built-in redundancy in the event of a failure.
One notable feature is an exterior airbag that will inflate should the vehicle come into contact with a person or other object.
Initially, the company used modified Toyota Prius sedans for testing as well as pilot grocery deliveries to Arizona and Texas.
The company switched to the R1 in December 2018, its first step towards a vehicle designed exclusively for packages.
Its second-generation vehicle, called the R2, was introduced in February 2020. The R2, which was designed and assembled in the United States in partnership with Michigan-based Roush Enterprises, was equipped with lidar, radar and cameras to give the “driver” a 360 degree view of his surroundings.
However, it lacked a few features typically required by the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. After three years of working with regulators, Nuro received a driverless exemption from NHTSA for his R2 vehicle. The exemption allows the vehicle to operate even if it does not have exterior mirrors, a windshield and a backup camera that turns off when moving forward.
Nuro has also received all of the necessary approvals and permits to operate an autonomous vehicle delivery service – capable of billing customers – in California.
The new “Nuro” bot is the last step, at least for now, towards its business goals.
Building robots in the desert
The company is not quite ready to launch its Nuro en masse yet. Even if it gets closer.
Nuro has raised abundant capital, piloted his vehicle with leading partners and has more than 1,200 employees.
In less than five years, the company has attracted leading private and institutional investors including Greylock Partners, SoftBank Vision Fund and T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. Its latest funding round of $ 600 million announced a few months ago hardly was led by a new investor. Tiger Global Management and included Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management & Research Company, LLC, Gaorong Capital, Google, Kroger, SoftBank Vision Fund 1, funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. and Woven Capital.
Nuro has also recruited several top partners, including 7-Eleven, CVS pharmacies, Dominoes, FedEx, Kroger grocery stores and Walmart.
Now he’s using some of that capital to build a new $ 40 million end-of-line manufacturing plant and closed-circuit test track in southern Nevada. The company is also taking back 74 acres of Las Vegas Motor Speedway to build a closed-course test facility that will allow the development and validation of its autonomous road vehicles. The test track will measure the performance of the robots in a wide range of scenarios, from avoidance of pedestrians and pets, to the spacing of bikes on shared roads, to environmental testing and validation of systems. of the vehicle, the company said previously.
Its supplier partner BYD North America will assemble the hardware components of the new model; it will then be completed in the new facilities in Nuro, where the robots will be ready for deployment.
“BYD attaches great importance to this collaboration with Nuro,” said Stella Li, executive vice president of BYD Co. Ltd. and president of BYD Motors Inc. in a statement. Li added that BYD will use the manufacturing capacity of its Lancaster plant to support Nuro and create more jobs in California.
Nuro would not provide precise figures on production capacity; the company says the facility has the capacity to manufacture and test “tens of thousands” of delivery vehicles per year. And he didn’t give a timeline except to say that his Nevada facility will be fully operational this year. Construction began on the site in November 2021.
Nuro did not specify where these commercial-grade robots will be deployed first. The company has confirmed that it has entered into a formal agreement with its existing partner Kroger to use the new Nuro delivery robots.