A new startup founded by two ex-Googlers has come out of the woodworks and claims to be working on a new type of driverless vehicle focused just on deliveries.
Called Nuro, the startup believes that by concentrating on automating services such as local, last-mile deliveries as opposed to your usual self-driving innovations such as robot taxis or public transport, it could help reduce traffic accidents and boost independent businesses.
The idea here is that local firms who are finding it increasingly difficult to take on online retail behemoths such as Amazon can make a bigger impact in the market.
Enter the firm's prototype, the R1.
Set up by two lead Google engineers who previously worked on the search engine giant's self-driving car project, Nuro's R1 delivery pod doesn't appear to be your bog-standard driverless car concept.
For a start, this minimalist-looking automobile doesn't have doors or windows. And that's because it will only be carrying packages, not people.
It weighs only 680g, with most of that weight coming from its battery pack, which powers its electric motor. In terms of size, it's around the same length and height as a conventional SUV, but only just over a metre wide. There's also a glass windshield, but this is only to conform with other vehicles on the road, and so other drivers don't freak out. And if you look inside, you'll find there's no traditional car controls like a steering wheel, foot pedals, or gear shift.
There's no driver seat either, because humans were not meant to operate the vehicle. And the thing that looks like a handle on the roof is in actual fact a platform for the vehicle's sensor array, which includes LIDAR, cameras, and radars.
"We've built the full software stack from scratch. There are a lot of components that are shared with general self-driving, and some things that are a bit different," co-founder of Nuro, Dave Ferguson told The Verge. "We've been able to architecture this thing from scratch, geared toward this passenger-less, goods-only transportation."
Ferguson added that the startup considered building the R1 to drive on sidewalks but in the end decided to make it road-worthy instead.
"Even if you have the perfect self-driving vehicle, if someone pops out between two parked cars and it's within your stopping distance, you can't prevent that accident," he said.
"Whereas if you have a vehicle that's half the width, and you've got an extra three or four feet of clearance, you can avoid it... and you have room to manoeuvre around them. You can better design the vehicle to mitigate the severity of any accident."
Nuro has already raised $92m in two rounds of fundraising and is in talks with a number of retailers and delivery providers about possible partnerships.
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