Ex-Google engineers show self-driving car for last-mile deliveries

While the likes of General Motors and Waymo get ready to deploy self-driving taxis in major urban areas, there’s another company in the self-driving space that’s focused on the transport of packages rather than people.

The company is Nuro, and on Tuesday it revealed a pod-like self-driving car designed for last-mile deliveries, i.e. the final leg of a delivery typically between a transportation hub and the receiver. These pods are designed for suburban streets and in the future could be bringing you your groceries or takeout or that latest purchase from Amazon.

Online shopping still only accounts for about 10 percent of all retail but this number is expected to grow as more retailers go online and companies like Nuro help speed up the delivery process. Already around $86 billion is spent annually on last-mile delivery, according to a recent McKinsey study, and Nuro is looking to tap this.

Nuro self-driving delivery vehicle

The company was founded by Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, a couple of engineers who previously worked on the Google Self-Driving Car Project (now Waymo). Both left the Google Self-Driving Car Project at the same time as the unit’s former chief engineer Chris Urmson. Urmson went to form Aurora which is working with major automakers Hyundai and the Volkswagen Group on self-driving cars.

Nero’s self-driving car relies on multiple lidar, radar and camera monitoring systems, as well as Nero’s own software system. The company plans to test the car on public roads later this year but still needs certain permissions from regulators as there’s no one to sit onboard and take over in case of an emergency.

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The pod-like car is about the same height as a conventional car but much narrower. This has benefits as it means there is a wide buffer around the vehicle when it is in a car lane. This, says Nuro, should help to reduce the chance of the vehicle being involved in an accident.

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