A Bunch Of Ex-Google Engineers Want To Make An Autonomous Delivery Breadbox Van

Photo: Nuro.ai

It seems super boxy, fully-autonomous concepts are all the rage these days. And now there’s a new startup looking to join the fray. Nuro.ai, started by two former Google engineers, revealed a driverless prototype that’s designed to handle low-speed, last-mile deliveries. Think dry cleaning or food.


Nuro has been operating in secret, as my colleague Erik Shilling reported earlier this month, but the company’s been actively testing its R1 Prototype, which you can see in action below in a clip the company posted from its testing grounds.

Nuro’s designing the vehicles for remote operation, and also, seemingly for easy carrying by giants, which adds another layer of complicating factors, as The Verge pointed out.

But real-time teleoperation has its challenges, such as signal latency and other issues. To gain enough confidence for public deployment, Nuro is using a fleet of six self-driving cars to collect data and optimize routes, which then gets fed into its prototype vehicles. Nuro has received a permit from the California DMV and plans to start testing on public roads later this year. But the company will need sign-off from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before it can operate in states where regulation prohibits completely human-free driving.

“We’ve built the full software stack from scratch. There are a lot of components that are shared with general self-driving, and some things that are a bit different,” said Dave Ferguson who, along with Jiajun Zhu, co-founded Nuro. “We’ve been able to architecture this thing from scratch, geared toward this passenger-less, goods-only transportation.”

That said, a driverless box makes sense for deliveries, and that’s almost certainly why the likes of Toyota and Ford are creating and testing similar ideas. It’s small—not a plan that would revolutionize driving. But perhaps that’s why it’s something that could work.

Check out that goofy handle though.

Senior Reporter, Jalopnik/Special Projects Desk


Joe Patroni

“Another breadbox van was hijacked today in the Mission District. Thieves got away with bags of groceries including breakfast cereal, artisan water, and gluten-free bagels.”