Autonomous vehicles from the likes of Zoox or Waymo have a simple purpose: to shepherd humans from one place to another. But a company called Nuro has been working on self-driving vehicles whose only job is to carry stuff like groceries or pizza—not passengers. Their robots on wheels are much bigger than cute little machines like Amazon’s Scout, and they travel not on sidewalks, but on roads.
Yesterday, the company took the wraps off the latest version of its vehicle. The newest iteration of the adorable electric four-wheeler will be able to hold nearly 500 pounds of groceries, Nuro says, with heating and cooling systems to keep food toasty or chilly, depending on what it’s carrying in what compartment. Like other self-driving vehicles, it uses onboard sensors like lidar, cameras, and radar to perceive the world around it.
In 2018, PopSci took a look at their first-gen vehicle, which measured about 8 feet long and 3.6 feet wide. The company’s president, Dave Ferguson, said at the time that because the small car wouldn’t ever have anyone in it, “you can do things like self-sacrificing the vehicle.” So it could steer itself into an object like a tree instead of hitting a person, for example. In the years since, the company released a second version, called the R2, and now they’re onto the third-gen vehicle, which isn’t called the R3. It’s just called the Nuro, and it’s larger and has more space for cargo than the R2.
The current Nuro vehicle sports something you might never have pictured a car having: an airbag that can deploy on the outside. That cushioning would inflate if the vehicle ever hits anyone. In renderings, it looks like an air mattress. Like that first-gen vehicle, “the new vehicle continues to prioritize the safety of other road users and in particular pedestrians and cyclists,” over the contents inside, the company said in a press release. In other words, it’s still people over pizza.
The company first launched a grocery delivery service in Arizona in 2018 with grocery chain Kroger, but stopped it in 2019. Before Nuro used their R1 vehicles there, they employed self-driving Toyota Priuses. Nuro moved on to Houston, Texas in 2019 and then Mountain View, California late last year, with the California tests focused on deliveries from 7-Eleven.
A company spokesperson clarified via email the locations where Priuses and the other vehicles were being used: “Nuro is actively providing deliveries using its fleet of autonomous Priuses in Houston with Kroger and in Mountain View with 7-Eleven. Nuro also plans to conduct testing in Houston with FedEx as part of its long-term commitment. Last year, Nuro also kicked off R2 deliveries for the very first time in Houston with Domino’s.” In California, the company and 7-Eleven will together decide to start using R2 for deliveries “as soon as possible.”
The autonomous vehicle company says that they’ll put the finishing touches on the Nuro vehicles in a $40-million facility in Nevada, after BYD North America builds the machines in California. Check out a short video about the new Nuro vehicle, below:
Correction on Jan. 14, 2022: This article has been updated to fix errors with the spelling of Dave Ferguson’s name and the spelling of Mountain View, California.