Automation

Mountain View, Calif.’s Latest AV Meant for Goods, Not People

Nuro, the company behind six autonomous delivery vehicles, hopes to have them on the road at some point in 2018.

by Aaron Aupperlee, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review / February 1, 2018

(TNS) — The latest self-driving car to make a splash looks like a toaster on wheels.

And perhaps that's appropriate for what Nuro wants to do.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based self-driving startup is aiming to move around goods, not people.

Photos on the company's website show the sleek vehicle carrying everything from pizza and flowers to groceries and packages under its gull-wing doors. Dave Ferguson, co-founder of Nuro, described it as a self-driving vehicle to run errands for you.

Ferguson is a Carnegie Mellon University graduate who worked on all sorts of robots while pursuing his Ph.D. there. As a research scientist at Intel, Ferguson was a member of the Tartan Racing team that won the DARPA Urban Grand Challenge and helped develop a robot butler named Herb and an algorithm used by Mars rovers.

Ferguson teamed up with Jiajun Zhu while the pair worked at Google on its self-driving car project. The pair left Google in 2016 and founded Nuro.

"We aspire to lead a new wave of robotics applications that make life easier for everyone and give us more time to do things we love," Zhu said in a statement. "We are living in extraordinary times where advancements in robotics, AI and computer vision are making it possible to imagine products and services that could not have existed just 10 years ago."

Nuro announced Tuesday that it had recently raised $92 million. The company is building a fleet of six autonomous, electric vehicles and hopes to have them on the road making unmanned deliveries this year, Forbes reported.

Its cars are about half as wide as a passenger car and made from ultra-light materials, the company said.

Moving goods, especially for the last mile, is big business. The costs are nearly $90 billion a year globally and going up, according to the consulting firm McKinsey. A study by the firm suggests that autonomous vehicles, including drones, will eventually deliver 80 percent to 100 percent of all items.

Nuro isn't the only company with eyes on autonomous delivery and not the only one with Pittsburgh connections. Ford and Domino's teamed up last year to deliver pizzas without a driver using technology developed in Pittsburgh by Argo AI. Kevin Peterson, also a member of the winning DARPA team at CMU, is a co-founder of Marble, a San Francisco-based startup working on autonomous delivery vehicles.

Even Amazon, which still has its eyes on the sky with autonomous drone delivery, recently filed a patent for self-driving delivery robots, according to The Verge. Toyota recently debuted its e-Palette, which can carry people or pizza and packages. Starship Technologies put a delivery robot on sidewalks in California, Washington, Germany and the United Kingdom, and Udelv is testing a self-driving van that delivers groceries in the San Mateo, Calif.

©2018 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.