What a start it’s been for the Nuro R2 driverless vehicles, which were introduced in February 2020. The second-generation vehicles were granted a major exemption by the U.S. Department of Transportation, received permission to test on the streets of California, and now they’re helping COVID-19 relief efforts.
Nuro R2 driverless vehicles this week started making contact-free deliveries at two make-shift medical facilities in California. At Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, a former NBA arena now being used to house up to 400 COVID-19 patients, Nuro is delivering medical supplies to help COVID-19 patients. And at the San Mateo County Event Center, which was recently converted into a multi-purpose facility for housing, medical care and testing, the Nuro R2s are transporting food, water and other supplies.
Nuro Co-Founder Dave Ferguson announced the initiatives in a blog. He wrote that these contact-free deliveries can help ensure healthcare workers have the supplies they need, save them time, and might help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“We are mindful that contactless delivery services like ours are not going to solve this crisis. Not even close,” he wrote. “Getting through this will require an unprecedented coordinated effort from all of us, and most of all from the heroes on the front lines. But we are grateful to have the opportunity to play a small part and have been inspired by what we have seen along the way. And to the heroes, thank you.”
At the moment, a handful of Nuro R2 driverless vehicles are involved, but that number could grow. Nuro is not being paid for these services.
Nuro’s Head of Robots, Andrew Clare, is speaking at RoboBusiness Direct on July 2. His talk, “Building Zero Occupant Autonomous Vehicles to Accelerate the Benefits of Robotics Today,” will explore some of the non-passenger applications of autonomy. He will also discuss how Nuro is tackling the challenges associated with designing vehicles and putting forth a consumer-facing service.
Another autonomous vehicle company, Boston-based Optimus Ride, is doing something similar. It paused its autonomous vehicle operations and is now helping deliver meals and Amazon packages to residents of Paradise Valley Estates (PVE), a retirement community for people ages 55-plus in Fairfield, Calif. Unlike Nuro, however, Optimus Ride’s vehicles are being manually driven by a human.
Nuro raised $940 million in February 2019 from the Softbank Vision Fund. The Nuro R2 was built to operate exclusively as an autonomous vehicle. It lacks side mirrors, rear visibility, and a windshield that can be seen through, all of which are required in human-driven vehicles, according to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The vehicles can also operate its rearview cameras while moving forward, since the vehicle will never be occupied by a human driver.