Nuro has received the first autonomous vehicle deployment permit granted by the state of California, which will allow its delivery robots to use public streets commercially, and not just as part of testing. The company, which has been working on delivery robot technology for the past several years and has deployed its prototypes commercially in real-world traffic in other states, will start using its robots as part of commercial operations in two counties near the Bay Area. This milestone follows the R2 delivery robot’s receipt of a U.S. Department of Transportation exemption in April of this year, and the fully autonomous testing of the R2 droid in three other states.
But the first autonomous vehicles to hit the road won’t be the small R2 units—they’ll be autonomous Toyota Prius vehicles. The company did not say what the autonomous Prius cars would be delivering or what kind of service they would be working for in the two Bay Area counties, indicating that it would do so soon.
The move is quite significant because it will see driverless cars, operating with a sensor package and software similar to the smaller R2 unit, actually driving on the streets of California without a driver backup. The cars themselves are expected to be delivery drones like the smaller R2 robot; their size and speed advantage over the little bots would obviously allow them to meld with traffic easier.
While both the R2 and the Prius have similar software and sensor hardware, it’s curious that the Prius will start service first, even if it’s not expected to be a robo-taxi. Nuro has mostly relied on Prius cars for testing its software with backup drivers and engineers behind the wheel.
“Driverless delivery will have a big impact for Californians in the coming years,” said Nuro Chief Legal and Policy Officer David Estrada. “Services like Nuro’s will provide contactless access to goods in our communities. A parent in Mountain View will be able to get the week’s groceries delivered, without bundling the family into the car. A grandmother in East Palo Alto will gain access to affordable home delivery of everyday necessities. And a young woman in San Jose will get the opportunity to start a new career overseeing the operation of a driverless fleet of vehicles that will deliver on these promises.”
Will pizza delivery vehicles with human drivers soon be a thing of the past?
Not so fast, we suspect, even in the Bay Area. It will be some time before robots become less expensive to use than humans with their own cars, even for tasks such as grocery delivery. But a race to make delivery robots cheaper than delivery humans is certainly underway.
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