Autonomous delivery specialist has just introduced the third version of its self-driving pod.
The new electric vehicle comes with more space for customer orders, customizable compartments for different types of goods, and an updated suite of navigation cameras, radar, lidar, and thermal cameras to equip the pod with a detailed view of its immediate environment.
For the first time it also features an external airbag to protect any distracted walkers and wayward cyclists who inadvertently stray into the pod’s path. An image (below) released by the California-based company shows the airbag fully inflated, covering the entire front of the driverless pod.
This is also the first Nuro pod that can be commercialized at scale, the company said.
Unlike self-driving cars being tested by Waymo and others, Nuro’s custom-built vehicles are designed exclusively to carry goods, with no space for passengers or even a safety driver. In fact, it doesn’t even have a steering wheel.
Such a design gives Nuro’s vehicle a footprint that’s 20% smaller than the average passenger car, enabling it to take up the absolute minimum amount of road space.
Nuro has been testing earlier iterations of its vehicle on public roads in three states, and has inked partnerships with the likes of Kroger, FedEx, Domino’s, and CVS Pharmacy.
Select customers can place an order with a local business such as a grocery store or pizza restaurant using Nuro’s smartphone app. When the autonomous vehicle carrying the order reaches its destination address, the customer receives an alert on their phone. They then pop outside and simply tap in a code on the vehicle’s touchscreen to unlock the compartment containing their order.
Besides further testing in real-world situations, Nuro will also trial its new pod on a closed test track being built in Nevada, where it will also manufacture the new pod.
Commenting on the new design, Nuro said: “This is the vehicle we’ll be producing at scale to better everyday life for millions, and we can’t wait for it to be on the road right outside your front door.”
Nuro was co-founded by Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu six years ago, with both men gaining valuable experience from their time with Google’s autonomous-car unit (now Waymo) when it was starting out.
While the company’s technology and vision has prompted investment from an array of major firms that include Google and SoftBank, success for Nuro is dependent upon it creating stable partnerships with businesses that want to use its vehicles for last-mile deliveries, as well as regulators who will need to green light the autonomous pod before the platform can be rolled out in earnest.
It also has to beat off competition from other grocery delivery services — autonomous or not — no easy feat in such a highly competitive market.