The race to get autonomous vehicles onto roads has primarily steered toward getting passengers into self-driving vehicles. Yet, despite all of the promises, investments, and press, artificial intelligence still seems more than a few upgrades away from confidently ensuring safety for riders at a fully autonomous level. Perhaps it won’t be passengers, but driverless delivered groceries like the Nuro R1 driverless delivery van that will provide the public with their real first experience with fully AI-operated vehicles.
Launched by two ex-Google engineers, the all-electric R1 errand vehicle navigates traffic using a combination of LiDAR, radars, and cameras – all located across the top of the vehicle and hidden within the shape of an arcing handle. Without any seats nor even the option for a driver, the majority of the vehicle’s interior has been optimized to carry a payload of groceries from warehouse distribution centers directly to customers’ doors for a $5.95 flat delivery fee.
If you squint, the compact van-style prototype can pass as a pug-faced miniaturize sibling of the all-electric Volkswagen I.D. Buzz, a passenger vehicle set to sell as a 2020 model.
The smaller size of the R1 allows the pod-like delivery vehicle to navigate traffic and park where most cars – even compact models – would have trouble. An app would both notify and verify customers for their deliveries (customers would still be required to carry their bags the last few steps).
Nuro is currently partnered with supermarket giant Kroger, testing same-day delivery orders using the Kroger’s ClickList ordering system and the Nuro app, but limited to a single pilot-program market in Scottsdale, Arizona. For now Nuro is using AI-outfitted Toyota Prius cars for working out the kinks of the system and until the R1 vehicles earns the certification to deliver same-day service.