Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving startup Nuro cleared to commercialize service in Calif.; firm makes acquisition

The California Department of Motor Vehicles embarked on a new era of autonomous driving Wednesday, granting a permit to self-driving delivery startup Nuro — a move that allows the company to launch commercial operations in two counties.

It’s the first commercial permit awarded to any company in the state, and it wasn’t the only big development for the company Wednesday.

“Issuing the first deployment permit is a significant milestone in the evolution of autonomous vehicles in California,” DMV director Steve Gordon said in a written statement. “We will continue to keep the safety of the motoring public in mind as this technology develops.”

Separately, Nuro said it had acquired self-driving trucking startup Ike. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Starting commercial service has been the overarching goal of every AV operator. A Nuro spokeswoman said the company has a partner lined up and will launch service “early” in 2021. When it does begin, the service will start with its Toyota Prius vehicles and transition to the company’s purpose-built R2 prototypes.

The company did not say how much it will charge for deliveries.

The permit follows others Nuro has received from California regulators, with the first two covering both autonomous testing with safety drivers aboard and the second allowing driverless testing, the latter of which was granted in April 2020. Now, service is poised to begin at a time when the global pandemic has jumpstarted interest in delivery services.

“Driverless delivery will have a big impact for Californians in the coming years,” said David Estrada, Nuro’s chief legal and policy officer. “Services like Nuro’s will provide contactless access to goods in our community. … We’re excited to see these benefits grow into the everyday lives of the people in our communities.”

It’s the second big milestone for Nuro this year. In February, the company became the first to receive an exemption from federal motor vehicle safety standards issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation that allowed it to deploy a vehicle that did not contain otherwise mandatory items such as windshield wipers and side-view mirrors on its R2, a zero-occupant vehicle.

The company closed a $500 million funding round in November, which brought its total funding so far to $1.5 billion.

It’s not clear how Ike will accelerate Nuro’s first-mover advantage in last-mile deliveries, but the two companies have always had a close relationship. Founded in 2018, Ike licensed Nuro’s self-driving system.

When the founders of the respective companies met, Nuro co-founder Dave Ferguson said, “there was an instant connection around first moving goods rather than people.” Ferguson said company executives have served as unofficial advisers for each other in recent years.

“Having Ike join us in accelerating our progress is a truly special moment that feels like a bit of a homecoming,” Ferguson wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition. “When Ike first started, they did so inside our office. We shared a common space and a common goal, with lots of excitement and too few conference rooms.”

Starting commercial service has been the overarching goal of every AV operator. A Nuro spokeswoman said the company has a partner lined up and will launch service “early” in 2021. When it does begin, the service will start with its Toyota Prius vehicles and transition to the company’s purpose-built R2 prototypes.

Source: https://theonlinecarguy.com/2020/12/24/self-driving-startup-nuro-cleared-to-commercialize-service-in-calif-firm-makes-acquisition/

Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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