ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Autonomous delivery is no longer a thing of the future—it’s happening now with companies like Nuro. Earlier this year, Nuro’s R2 became the first driverless delivery vehicle to receive federal approval, reports GroceryDive.com, and Nuro is the first robot delivery firm to operate fully autonomous vehicles in three states: Arizona, California and Texas.
This week, California-based Nuro announced it has secured $500 million in additional funding. The autonomous delivery company, now valued at $5 billion, according to PitchBook, plans to roll out R2 commercially in coming months and is working on third-generation technology that will become its mainstream, fully scalable vehicle.
While autonomous delivery promises to improve last-mile economics, the technology remains expensive and difficult to scale. But Nuro’s latest funding round is a vote of confidence for a concept that shows great promise while still a long way from mainstream deployment.
Nuro was started by two former Google engineers, who hoped to launch the fully autonomous R2 vehicle in the spring. They were delayed by the pandemic. Now, David Estrada, chief legal and policy officer of Nuro, said the company plans to roll out R2 in Houston.
Already, Nuro makes deliveries for Kroger in six Houston ZIP codes, building on a pilot program that began in Arizona two years ago. Kroger customers receive orders via Toyota Prius vehicles outfitted with R2 technology. When the order arrives at shoppers' homes, they receive a text message prompting them to come out and gather their merchandise from the vehicle. That experience simulates the future R2 experience, said Estrada.
In December, Walmart also announced a partnership with Nuro. Walmart’s interest in autonomous delivery is not limited to Nuro. This week, the retail giant announced it is adding Cruise, a majority-owned affiliate of General Motors, to its roster of self-driving startup partners in a pilot delivery program that’s set for early 2021 in Scottsdale.
According to OANN.com, Walmart previously partnered with tech startups Flytrex and Gatik—in addition to Nuro—to test delivery using drones and self-driving vehicles in several U.S. locations and with Ford in a Miami delivery pilot.
For several years, Cruise has been testing its self-driving vehicles in San Francisco and Phoenix. The company has said that it “laser-focused on making this first pilot successful with Walmart,” but has not said how many vehicles will be deployed in that pilot.
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