Hours after announcing that it acquired self-driving truck startup Ike, Nuro revealed it’s the first company to receive permission from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to charge a fee and receive compensation for its driverless delivery service. Unlike the autonomous testing licenses the California DMV previously granted to Nuro and others, which limited the compensation self-driving vehicle companies could receive, the deployment permit enables Nuro to make its technology commercially available.
Some experts predict the pandemic will hasten adoption of autonomous vehicles for delivery. Self-driving cars, vans, and trucks promise to minimize the risk of spreading disease by limiting driver contact. This is particularly true with regard to short-haul freight, which is experiencing a spike in volume during the outbreak. The producer price index for local truckload carriage jumped 20.4% from July to August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most likely propelled by demand for short-haul distribution from warehouses and distribution centers to ecommerce fulfillment centers and stores.
The California DMV permit allows Nuro to use a fleet of light-duty driverless vehicles for a delivery service on surface streets within designated parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, including the cities of Atherton, East Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, and Woodside. The vehicles have a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour and are only approved to operate in fair weather conditions on streets with a speed limit of no more than 35 miles per hour.
“This permit will allow our vehicles to operate commercially on California roads in two counties near our [Mountain View, California] headquarters in the Bay Area. Soon we will announce our first deployment in California with an established partner. The service will start with our fleet of Prius vehicles in fully autonomous mode, followed by our custom-designed electric R2 vehicles,” Nuro chief legal and policy officer David Estrada wrote in a blog post. “We have extensively tested our self-driving technology and built a track record of safe operations over the past four years, including two successful commercial deployments in other states and driverless testing with R2 in the Bay Area communities where we plan to deploy.”
In April, Nuro, which has over 600 employees, secured a permit from the California DMV to test driverless delivery vehicles on public roads within a portion of the San Francisco Bay Area. That followed the issuance of a DMV permit in 2017 requiring that the company employ safety drivers in its autonomous test vehicles on public roads. More recently, in February, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) granted Nuro an autonomous vehicle exemption that allowed the company to pilot its custom-designed R2 delivery vehicles on roads without certain equipment required for passenger vehicles.
For the better part of a year, Nuro’s fleet of Toyota Prius vehicles in Houston, Texas has been making deliveries to consumers from various partners, including Kroger, Domino’s, and Walmart. The company has deployed over 75 delivery vehicles to date, a mix of self-driving Priuses and R2s.