California has given the autonomous delivery startup Nuro a permit to begin testing its battery-powered vehicles on public roads in two northern California counties.
The company’s R2 vehicles are small vans without steering wheels or pedals that resemble a toaster on wheels. They are about half the size of a mid-size passenger car.
The permit, issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, enables Nuro to run two R2s on certain roads in parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties in the Bay Area. They can run at a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour and only in fair weather on streets where the speed limit is 35 mph or lower.
The permit covers nine cities: Atherton, East Palo Alto, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Woodside.
“The safety of the motoring public is the DMV’s top priority, and we do not give out these permits lightly,” DMV Director Steve Gordon said in statement. “Nuro has met the DMV’s requirements to receive this permit to test their driverless delivery vehicles on California’s public roads.”
Testing will not start until Gov. Gavin Newsom lifts the stay-at-home order implemented to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. But Nuro can begin logistical planning, according to David Estrada, Nuro chief legal and policy officer.
California has issued permits to 65 companies interested in testing driverless vehicles with a human safety driver, Alphabet’s Waymo and Nuro are the only two authorized to operate driverless vehicles on public roads.
The low-speed R2s are designed to deliver groceries, food and other small packages. Nuro also operates a test fleet of modified Toyota Priuses in the Houston area.
Nuro, based in Mountain View, California, has raised about $1 billion led by SoftBank, the Tokyo conglomerate. In contrast to Waymo and Cruise Automation, which are trying to transport people in autonomous vehicles, Nuro uses similar technology for smaller vehicles that will deliver goods primarily in suburban residential neighborhoods.
The company, which was founded by two former Google GOOGL engineers, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, will not charge a fee for its deliveries, but it can make money by working with local retailers.
Estrada told TechCrunch Nuro will seek a full commercial deployment permit to deliver items throughout California.
The R2 is Nuro’s second generation vehicle, introduced in February 2020. It was designed and assembled in partnership with Michigan-based Roush Enterprises. The toaster-like device has a 360-degree vision system for monitoring other vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists and road conditions. The company says R2’s front end is also designed to protect pedestrians as it will collapse inward in the event of a collision.