Nuro, the company that makes the little robot car called the R2, announced a partnership with one of its highest-profile clients yet, FedEx. The companies had been working together on a sort of pilot program to integrate the Nuro pilot into FedEx operations in Houston, Texas, since April. The two companies are now making it official with a multi-year, multi phase agreement, per FedEx.
The agreement is still being called a test by FedEx, which makes sense given that the logistics giant can’t hang its hat on the performance of a pretty young autonomous platform. I imagine the R2 has a ways to go before seeing a wide-scale roll-out wearing FedEx Livery, and it’s Texas, so will someone get this little guy a sombrero? Maybe just don’t cover the camera array with it, please.
This is big news, not just for Nuro and FedEx but for all those interested in autonomous vehicles. Nuro has leap-frogged a lot of major carmakers by getting around the issue of passenger safety when it comes to AVs. It’s done this simply by not having any passengers at all, unless, of course, you count pizza as a passenger.
This isn’t to discount any of the work Nuro — to some extent FedEx, too — has done with R&D on the R2. Many of the same issues still apply whether the robo-car is ferrying passengers or cargo. The advantage here is that the R2 does not have to be held up by the need for redundancy and failover measures such as those in the case of autonomous passenger cars.
Of course, the Nuro can still do some damage to pedestrians, property and itself. The concern with pedestrians, I imagine, may be a little less pressing in a city like Houston. I’ll take that further as a denizen of the Lone Star State and say that outside of Austin and maybe a few square blocks in the greater Dallas and Houston areas, there’s just not that much foot traffic in Texas.
Again, that’s not to downplay the work ahead of Nuro and FedEx. If you’ve ever driven in Houston, you know how rough the roadways can be. Traffic can be unforgiven and dense in that densely populated city with a population mostly depends on their cars as opposed to public transportation. That’s why I think Houston is a great test-bed for Nuro and FedEx, but the R2 won’t be truly Texan until it starts delivering groceries from H-E-B.