SoftBank has invested $940 million into driverless vehicle startup Nuro The Wall Street Journal reports. The deal is noteworthy not just for the amount of money involved, but also for the growth it could spur in driverless delivery, as well as how it plays into SoftBank’s portfolio of automated mobility companies.
Nuro makes autonomous, low-speed electric pod-like vehicles that are about half the size of a traditional car. These pods are built from the ground up to carry goods, and there is literally no room for a driver. Since the pods are light, nimble and top out at 25 mph, they could be a safer alternative to full-sized autonomous vehicles and therefore a more attractive option for risk-averse city planners and regulators creating laws around the emerging driverless delivery space.
One has to wonder how the folks at Robomart, which makes similar pod-like vehicles, are feeling today. On the one hand, Robomart is going after a different market, forsaking direct point-to-point delivery in favor of mobile commerce, so they aren’t direct competitors, and SoftBank’s massive money drop is a validation of low-speed vehicles as a technology. But Nuro’s pods are already being tested by grocery giant Kroger to deliver groceries in Arizona, and this cash infusion will help Nuro quickly scale up is engineering, production and business development. Nuro now has the money to invest in and improve its technology and get its platform used by more partners, potentially boxing out Robomart.
But almost more interesting than Nuro’s newfound cash to expand is Softbank as the investor. Over the past year, SoftBank has made a number of bets on mobility and food delivery:
- SoftBank and Toyota teamed up for a joint venture called MONET, which will create an autonomous vehicle platform for a number of different smart mobility services including food delivery and even mobile food preparation.
- SoftBank invested $375 million in Zume, which uses vast amounts of data to predict the amount of pizza delivery on any given night, as well as robots to prepare those pizzas, and mobile ovens to heat them just-in-time for delivery.
- SoftBank is an investor in both DoorDash and Uber Eats, two food delivery services experimenting with self-driving vehicles, robot delivery and perhaps even drone delivery.
With the Nuro investment, SoftBank adds another delivery form factor (low speed pods) to its logistical lineup. With all of these investments that connect goods and consumers, Softbank is setting itself up to be a dominant player in our increasingly self-driving and delivery-filled future.