Uber Eats customers in California and Texas will soon be able to have their takeout delivered by a driverless delivery pod after the company signed a 10-year deal with Nuro, an autonomous driving startup.
Today’s announcement is the culmination of more than four years of start-and-stop negotiations between the two companies. Uber wanted to use Nuro’s vehicles to deliver in Houston in 2019, but those plans never materialized. Now the two companies have signed a ten-year deal to expand robot deliveries to more customers than ever before.
Starting this fall, Uber and Nuro will deploy autonomous delivery vehicles in two cities: Mountain View, California, and Houston, Texas. Neither company would disclose the number of vehicles or the expected number of customers that will participate in these early tests, but they did say they hope to eventually expand the service area to the greater California Bay Area.
Nuro’s second-generation R2 vehicle isn’t your typical delivery robot designed just for sidewalks. It’s much bigger, about half the width of a compact sedan, but shorter than most cars. And there’s no room inside for human passengers or drivers, making it completely driverless in the truest sense of the word. It has a top speed of 45 mph, making it ideal for commuter traffic, but not on highways. It can carry a total of 500 lbs, with room for about 24 shopping bags in the compartments.
Nuro, valued at $8.6 billion, was founded in 2016 by Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, two veterans of the Google self-driving car project that would become Waymo. It is one of the few companies currently operating fully self-driving vehicles – i.e. vehicles without safety drivers behind the wheel – on public roads. It was the first company to receive a special exemption from certain federal safety requirements and was also the first to charge for its driverless deliveries in California.
the permit, issued by the California DMV, only allows the company to operate its delivery service in parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, meaning most of Silicon Valley and its tech workers would be within its domain, but not in San Francisco or Oakland. . This means that the company must obtain additional approval from the RDW before expanding its service area.
Nuro isn’t the only autonomous delivery company partnering with Uber. The company is also partnering with Serve Robotics and Motional to test robot deliveries. Serve Robotics operates delivery robots that drive on sidewalks, while Motional uses electric Hyundai Ioniq 5 SUVs with two safety drivers in the front seats. Serve and Motional’s respective pilots with Uber Eats are available to customers in the Los Angeles area.
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