Following the approval of Alphabet’s Waymo to run without a safety driver, Nuro is only the second company to be allowed totally driverless testing on California roads. Mostly because the Nuro R2 prototypes aren’t big enough to fit a driver anyhow. On Tuesday the self-driving startup was granted a permit allowing its two prototypes the ability to test in nine California cities.
Back in February, the startup was granted exemptions from the federal government to bypass NHTSA rules for motor vehicles on public roads. Namely that it didn’t need rear view mirrors, a windshield, backup camera, or pedal and steering wheel controls. Without the R2 having evolved anywhere for a driver to sit, those things would have been vestigial anyhow. While the federal exemption has been granted for up to 5,000 Nuro R2 units, Nuro only currently has two with which to test.
The Nuro R2 is essentially just an oversized electric grocery cart with suspension and tires to handle driving on American roads. It’s much smaller than a traditional road-going vehicle, and it is limited to just 25 miles per hour for safety reasons. It’s made specifically for the delivery from store to door. This seems like a much better idea than Amazon’s asinine drone delivery scheme.
These little machines will eventually be able to deliver your groceries right to your door without you having to take a special trip out to get them. Such a thing would be a serious help in the society we face in 2020 where a trip to the grocery store is potentially deadly.
In fact, Nuro said as much to Automotive News:
“Admittedly, while we have always believed that small self-driving delivery vehicles would improve road safety and provide valuable convenience to consumers, we did not foresee our service helping to keep Americans safe from contagion,” writes David Estrada, Nuro’s chief legal and policy officer. “But the COVID-19 pandemic has expedited the public need for contactless delivery services.”
Nuro and California have not yet set an exact date for when the testing can begin, but the permits are a first major hurdle in getting to that point. Nuro wants to prove that its R2 is a viable grocery getter, as it could be a huge selling point for someone like Whole Foods to offer widespread delivery like this in partnership with Nuro. For the purposes of the testing permit, Nuro is not allowed to charge a delivery fee.
If one of these things breaks down on its way to or from a delivery, I hope it plays an audio track of a young Mark Hamill shouting “Uncle Owen! This R2 unit has a bad motivator!” That would be excellent.