The Robot Delivery Vans Are Here

Date: 2018-02-01
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The future of driverless driving looks like a giant toaster with a funny hat.

That’s an approximation of a new autonomous vehicle unveiled Jan. 30 by Nuro, a Silicon Valley startup that’s been cryptic about its business plan since it launched about 18 months ago. Nuro’s shiny, minimalist appliance on wheels doesn’t have doors or windows to speak of, because it will be carrying packages—not people.

As every major automaker and dozens of tech companies race to replace drivers in Uber cars and taxi fleets, Nuro is ignoring humans altogether and steering for Inc., UPS Inc. and any retailer looking to build its e-commerce business. “We realized we could make it possible to deliver anything, anytime, anywhere,” said co-founder Dave Ferguson. “We like to call it a local teleportation service.”

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Nuro’s delivery pod weighs about 1,500 pounds, with most of that mass packed into a battery pack that powers its electric motor. It’s roughly the same length and height as a conventional SUV, but only 3.5 feet wide. There is a glass windshield, mostly just to keep other drivers from freaking out.

UPS ranks No. 1 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest North American for-hire carriers.

Each will come with a modular, customizable interior that can carry about 250 pounds. A grocer will be able to opt for shelves and refrigeration; a dry-cleaner can go with hanging racks; while peer-to-peer versions shuffling the detritus of Craigslist may have two empty cargo bays with some anchoring straps. “We spent a bunch of time doing ergonomic experiments,” Ferguson said.

Along the spectrum of self-driving technology, Nuro’s cargo vehicle falls somewhere between a car from the “The Jetsons” and one of those smart suitcases that follow travelers around the airport.

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