Nuro announced today that it has been given permission to operate its driverless delivery vehicles on California’s public roads.
The Nuro R2 is a pod-like, low-speed autonomous vehicle about half the size of a normal car that only travels up to 25 mph. It features two cargo compartments and no area for a human driver or passenger.
Nuro has been on a bit of a regulatory roll this year. In February, the R2 got federal approval to operate on public roads.
But the world is a vastly different place today than it was back in February. With a global pandemic raging across the country and planet, the idea of a humanless means of delivering food seems pretty enticing right now. With trips to the grocery store now constituting a risk of contracting COVID-19, there has been a surge in grocery e-commerce. Instacart and other delivery service have instituted no-contact delivery and arm their workers with gloves and masks. Still, having a robot drive your groceries curbside removes another vector of human-to-human transmission.
It will be awhile before autonomous delivery vehicles like Nuro’s move into the mainstream, though. Previously, Nuro partnered with Walmart and Domino’s Pizza for autonomous delivery in Houston, TX. Given the shelter-in-place orders in California, there is no set timeline for Nuro’s R2 tests to begin other than “soon.” When it does, it will start in Mountain View, before rolling out to Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and eventually the whole state.
Even then, however, Nuro is going to have to work with local governments who are grappling with rapid technological change in real time, let alone a time of pandemic. Hopefully we won’t have to experience another global health crisis like this one in our lifetime. If we do, though, it would be nice to have more autonomous vehicles allowed to take over jobs that are vital, yet suddenly more dangerous, like food delivery.