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Nuro announces its last-mile delivery solution

Is this the new face of last-mile delivery? And if it’s autonomous, what’s with the window? (Photo: Nuro)

Pressure on last mile delivery is building up due to several factors: (1) increasing urban congestion often due to aging infrastructure, (2) lack of warehouse space, and the (3) consumer expectation of cheap (or free) and fast shipping.

While it may mean greater boom times than ever before for carriers, in the short-to-medium term it’s getting more difficult to execute on-time deliveries. As a result, the much-discussed emerging technologies are looking to drones and e-trucks for subverting the time and cost challenges. It’s within this context that Nuro announces its entry into the market.

Say what you will about California — how it’s quaking into the sea, drying up, burning away and crushing citizens with taxes and regulations — it sure does produce a lot of research and development. Nuro’s self-driving vehicle is designed to transform what they call “local commerce.”

Their vehicle aims to reshape the cost structure of goods transportation, creating a powerful platform for a variety of everyday goods and services. Nuro also announced that it raised a $92 million Series A in two rounds, led by Banyan Capital and Greylock Partners, respectively. Nuro is effectively placing itself alongside Phantom Auto and other such startups in a space that will likely discover winners in the remotely operated driverless vehicles space rapidly.

“We started Nuro to make products that will have a massive impact on the things we do every day,” says 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.”

Nuro’s delivery pod weighs about 1,500 pounds, with most of that mass packed into a battery pack that powers its electric motor. It’s about the same length and height as a conventional SUV, but only 3.5 feet wide.

 Meet the Nuro co-founders, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu. (Photo: Nuro)
Meet the Nuro co-founders, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu. (Photo: Nuro)

Nuro’s new vehicle is designed specifically to move goods between and among businesses, neighborhoods and homes. At about half the width of a car, the design and ultra-light materials are aimed to make it not only safe, but one of the safest vehicles on the road.

“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,” says 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’s plan is to forge partnerships with businesses big and small seeking new ways to cost effectively transport goods and create new experiences for their customers. The company combines software and hardware expertise to design and build products that accelerate the benefits of robotics for everyday life.

The company is led by world-renowned experts in robotics, AI and computer vision. Privately held, Nuro powers partnerships with local businesses seeking new ways to cost effectively transport goods and create new experiences for their customers.

It probably goes without saying for a startup that only just announced its presence that the challenges are still plenty. A major one would seem to be what about when major car manufacturers announce their plans to enter the market? Like — ahem — Toyota just did with the e-Pallete concept, working in coordination with Pizza Hut as delivery vehicles.

Also, real-time teleoperation isn’t a done deal. There are signal latency and other issues. To gain confidence for public deployment, Nuro is using a fleet of six self-driving cars to collect data and optimize routes, which then feeds into its prototypes. Nuro has received a permit from the California DMV and plans to start testing on public this year. The company awaits a sign-off from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before such operations can formally begin.

They may not have everything figured out yet, but they certainly have a leg up on the competition in terms of the pedigree of their founders and employees. For now, Nuro may rent out space, or charge per delivery, or offer a subscription model, but it will likely always manage its fleet of robots, whatever approach it takes.

The goal for the year is to turn its prototype into a scalable product. By the end of the year, the company plans to have vehicles in service somewhere in the US. According to Ferguson, the company is having conversations with companies about partnerships, but no news yet.

Its mission, for the time being, is to get its vehicles on U.S. roads sometime this year, performing some kind of “useful service.” It’s a humble enough mission for now, but with big ambitions.

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Chad Prevost

Chad is radio host and broadcast media specialist for FreightWaves.