It’s described as “the most commercially and technically mature autonomous vehicle in the world” on Nuro’s website. It’s a small, electric vehicle known as the R2. All in all, the Nuro is a simple, self-driving delivery vehicle, with limited uses as of right now. But it’s also paving the way for a driverless, autonomous future, one delivery at a time.
The Nuro R2: small, electric, and adorable
I know I’m supposed to be unbiased, that’s my job as a journalist, but just look at it. The shape, the headlamps, it looks like a friendly little robot (mainly because it is one). The Nuro R2 is completely electric, completely autonomous, and packed with sensors to navigate city streets.
With a 360 degree camera mounted on top, the vehicle has a complete view of its surroundings. And other gadgets, such as a thermal camera, lidar, and radar, help determine distances between other objects, cars, and people. And the car was designed small on purpose.
Because the Nuro R2 was only built to carry cargo, it didn’t need to be as wide as a typical passenger car. Instead, it’s narrow enough to operate on a sidewalk (not that it would). And it leaves room for other vehicles to pass like one would pass a cyclist.
But perhaps the most impressive thing about the Nuro R2 is that it’s a completely street-legal autonomous vehicle. You can read the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s exemption of the Nuro, allowing it to operate 100% autonomously. And for a while, it has been.
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From groceries to pizzas, these companies have already partnered with Nuro
It all depends on where you are in the country, but already Nuro has partnered with big names to deliver goods. The biggest company they’ve teamed up with is Walmart, who’s no stranger to self-driving electric cars. There’s also Kroger and CVS, which delivers food and pharmaceuticals to those who need them. An impressive feat in a world where no contact deliveries are more popular than ever.
But according to Insider, online grocery shopping only makes up around 7% of grocery shopping commerce. Most people go into stores, look at their products, and check out. Food delivery, however, is a much more prominent market. And so far, both Dominos and Chipotle have teamed up with Nuro.
But the biggest, and most recent partnership, however, was FedEx, which committed to using Nuro autonomous vehicles for large-scale, last-mile deliveries. What does that mean exactly? It means that someday, all your packages will arrive via a self driving robot. Though that day is far in the future, the Nuro R2, and autonomous vehicles in general, have some hurdles to get over.
The current limitations of the Nuro R2 autonomous delivery vehicle
As previously mentioned, whether or not you can utilize Nuro all depends on what state you’re in. So far, Houston is the hub for Dominos. So if you want your Dominos pizza delivered by a self driving robot, you have to buy a plane ticket to Texas (or live there, whichever is easiest). Other states include California and Arizona, though the Nuro R2 only runs routes in select cities.
There are also some physical limitations to the Nuro as well. For starters, the R2 has a top speed of 25 mph. This is one of the contingencies the NHTSA insisted on in order for Nuro to operate on public roads. And the Nuro faces all the same problems electric cars do in terms of range and charging (which takes about four and a half hours, easy to do overnight).
In short, the Nuro is the closest thing we have to an autonomous future, but it’s not perfect. We’re a long way away from mass-produced and universally accepted driverless cars. So for now, keep your eyes on the road, and thank your mailman.