A Toaster on Wheels to Deliver Groceries?

From The New York Times

Self-Driving Tech Tests Practical Uses

Slow uptake of driverless passenger services is spurring the autonomous industry to experiment with offerings like food deliveries from small, self-driving vehicles. One example is an unmanned electric car from the Nuro startup that transports groceries from a local chain to customers in Scottsdale, AZ.

Designed by a start-up called Nuro, the vehicle was making a test run as part of a partnership with Fry’s on an autonomous delivery service. Starting this week, Nuro said, two of these small, electric cars will chug along local streets at no faster than 25 miles an hour to deliver groceries to nearby homes.

If it all looked a bit ridiculous, that’s because self-driving is still a technology in search of a purpose. With driverless passenger services from the likes of Waymo, Uber and General Motors slow to become realities, the autonomous industry is casting about for practical uses — and hitting upon experiments like food deliveries from cars that make a golf cart seem spacious.

Nuro’s Dave Ferguson said, “If we can reduce the cost of these deliveries and get them to you faster than you could make the trip yourself, there would be no reason for you to get in the car.”

More recently, Postmates in San Francisco announced plans to dispatch robotic shopping carts with blinking digital eyes onto sidewalks for similar deliveries. Ferguson said Nuro can increase the margin of error on roads by making the delivery vehicle much smaller than a normal-sized car.

As a whole, autonomous vehicles are still three to four years from the point where they can make regular trips with no safety drivers, said Don Burnette, chief executive and founder of the driverless trucking company Kodiak Robotics. Autonomous passenger services, he added, are more like seven to 10 years away.

“The more people work on urban self-driving, the more they realize what a long road it is,” he said.

Nuro was founded in 2016 by Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, two key engineers from Google’s self-driving project, which eventually morphed into the Waymo autonomous business. (Both have the same parent company, Alphabet.) Nuro, which is based in Mountain View, Calif., and has raised $92 million in funding, decided to focus on creating tiny self-driving cars — they measure 104 inches long by 43 inches wide by 70 inches high — that would solely make local deliveries.  Article in the NYT

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