Nuro R2 driverless bot wins California approval for deliveries

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles on Tuesday authorized autonomous technology startup Nuro to test two driverless delivery vehicles in nine cities, a decision that comes as coronavirus concerns lock down many in the state.

U.S. companies that deliver groceries, household goods and take out food are scrambling to find drivers as well as ways to deliver with zero or minimal contact amid the virus outbreak.

Nuro, the second firm after Alphabet Inc’s Waymo to receive the state’s permit, has been allowed to test its driverless, low-speed R2 vehicle, about half the width of a regular car. It has been testing autonomous vehicles on California’s roads with safety drivers since 2017.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has expedited the public need for contactless delivery services. Our R2 fleet is custom-designed to change the very nature of driving, and the movement of goods, by allowing people to remain safely at home while their groceries, medicines, and packages, are brought to them,” said Nuro Chief Legal and Policy Officer David Estrada.

The permit also means Nuro can begin conducting deliveries with its local retail partners, Estrada added.

Walmart and Domino’s Pizza last year launched pilot delivery projects with Nuro in Houston.

The permit allows Nuro to test its vehicles in parts Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, including parts of Atherton, East Palo Alto, Los Altos and six other cities.

Nuro, a privately held robotics company based in Mountain View, California, was permitted by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in February to deploy up to 5,000 low-speed electric delivery vehicles in Houston without human controls such as mirrors and steering wheels. It has also been delivering groceries for Kroger in Scottsdale, Ariz., and its rival Refraction AI has been testing deliveries with its R1 bot on the streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan.