The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating a shakeout in the autonomous vehicle industry, but that doesn’t mean well-capitalized companies aren’t moving full speed ahead with new ventures. To wit, self-driving company Nuro has announced a pilot project with CVS Pharmacy, in which the Silicon Valley startup will deliver medications via autonomous robotic vehicles in several Houston neighborhoods.
The pilot will launch this month. Deliveries will be free to customers for orders through CVS.com or the CVS Pharmacy app, and are expected to be fulfilled in three hours or less.
“Today, more than ever, we believe autonomous delivery can improve people’s everyday lives,” according to a Medium post from Nuro announcing the partnership. “Maintaining our health and safety has never felt so critical.”
Nuro said the plan is to first use Toyota Prius vehicles equipped with self-driving technology for the deliveries, and later shift to R2, its custom-built delivery vehicle. A safety driver will be behind the wheel at all times.
Founded in 2016, Nuro has raised more than $1 billion from investors, making it one of the more stable autonomous vehicle companies during a time when many transportation tech startups are laying off staff and struggling to raise funds from VC firms.
In the past couple of years, Nuro has focused on the red-hot food delivery market, partnering with Kroger and Domino’s to deliver groceries, and joining Waymo and Cruise, autonomous vehicle competitors that have also collaborated with supermarkets on pilot projects.
Medical prescription delivery, via regular or self-driving vehicles, looks to be the next big thing, especially as demand tied to the COVID-19 outbreak inspires new investment and partnerships.
The company will be allowed to use drones on two specified routes after the Federal Aviation Administration granted it an emergency waiver.
Over 76% of people in the United States live within five miles of a CVS Pharmacy, according to the Nuro blog post. Customers placing prescription orders via CVS.com or the CVS app can choose the autonomous delivery option and add other nonprescription items to their order. They will have to verify their identity to unlock the vehicle.