SoftBank recently announced its intentions to invest about $ 940 million in Nuro, a Silicon Valley start-up that is engaged in the development of revolutionary robotic delivery vehicles, designed in the form of a toaster. This move by Softbank is said to be one of the largest financings ever made to date in the commercialization of technology autonomous. Mountain View, Calif., Founded by two former members of Google’s self-driving project, said SoftBank’s funds would allow it to expand its automated delivery service started last year to new areas, such as add partners and increase its fleet of unmanned vehicles, and also simultaneously accelerate the development of its technology and expand considerably the core strength and numbers of its team.
Including the $ 92 million that Nuro raised last year, with funds from Greylock Partners and Gaorong Capital, the young company raised more than $ 1 billion. Nuro spent two and a half years, in efforts to building and establishing a great core team, launching its first ever unmanned service, working with a number of incredible partners and creating technology to fundamentally improve daily human life, said Nuro Co-Founder, Dave Ferguson. This partnership gives Nuro the opportunity to take another step towards realizing its long-term vision of local commerce and the broad application of its technology.
Nuro has recently been one of the few companies to be operating fully driverless vehicles on public roads. Softbank’s investment in the firm has been a huge vote of confidence for the whole industry on self-driving technology. Nuro’s present and near future mission is to expand the benefits of robotics in general, while also concentrating on the delivery business for now. People love getting their stuff brought to them, especially if it means they don’t have to spend their Saturday afternoons with the car full of kids and a trunk full of groceries.
Nuro has also set itself apart by focusing on its food delivery primarily rather than people moving and has already announced a pilot delivery service in Arizona in partnership with grocery giant Kroger. Nuro also plans to increase its test fleet of standard cars fitted with self-driving hardware and software to about 50, which it hopes to operate on public roads in California, Arizona, and Texas with safety drivers behind the wheel. However, even with a lot of uncertainty swirling around self-driving cars, particularly around safety and real-world applications, the companies that are developing the technology are continuing to rake in cash at a brisk pace.
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Trucking and logistics are increasingly become an important area of focus, as far as autonomous technology development is concerned, as the deployment of driverless systems for passenger vehicles appears to be more difficult than initially anticipated. And after a slight lull in news on auto-driver technology funding at the end of 2018, following the steady pace of trading for over two years, 2019 started with a bang, with Nuro’s news coming after a new funding for Aurora, an autonomous technology startup headed by Chris Urmson, a former Ferguson colleague at Ferguson and another Nuro co-founder, Jiajun Zhu. In sharp contrast to the ongoing long-haul semi-truck trucks projects at TuSimple, Embark, and Waymo for Alphabet Inc., Nuro focuses on low-cost local deliveries using its custom-designed self-driving vehicles, which are about half the size than a regular car. These vehicles cannot be categorized into the traditional sense of an “autonomous car”, as they are not really focused on the transport of humans, but on the shipping and transporting of goods.
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The company began testing them last year as part of a pilot program, offering groceries, meals and other products. The company has partnered with Kroger for grocery deliveries, licensed its technology to a trucking company, Ike, and is currently testing a delivery service in Arizona. Nuro’s world-class team has been able to move its autonomous lab technology to the street, according to Michael Ronen, the Managing Partner of SoftBank Investment Advisers. In just two years, Dave, Jiajun and their team have transformed Nuro from a concept to a true robotics business to connect retailers to customers. Nuro’s specially designed small robotic delivery vehicles use the same advanced sensing equipment – the laser lidar for high-definition 3D images, advanced cameras and radars – as standalone vehicles for Waymo and GM’s Cruise.
But because they do not run at high speed or on highways, the Nuro model does not need the same level of vision over long distances, which allows it to use less expensive equipment. Also, because it is smaller and does not carry people, its construction requires fewer materials and does not require airbags, seat belts, or other occupant-specific safety equipment. All in all, what is left to be seen is whether Nuro succumbs to pressure from its prospective customers, to change their designs. These changes may cause irregularities in Nuro’s technology, as has been observed in the past when tech start-ups have been forced into altering their initial innovations and products to suit or pacify their prospective clients.
While things are still working out with Nuro and the likes and the kinks in its drone delivery project, Amazon is also considering using self-driving robots, having just filed a patent for an autonomous ground vehicle. Meanwhile, Toyota has also unveiled its bizarre “e-palette” concept at CES this year. Last year, Ford Motor Company had also teamed up with Domino’s to deliver pizza via a self-driving car.
And later today, a Northern Californian start up called Udelv is demonstrating what it calls “the world’s first public-road autonomous delivery test,” in which a self-driving van will deliver goods from the high-end Draeger’s Market chain in the Bay Area city of San Mateo. A very likely outcome is that Nuro gets quickly bought up by a company like Amazon. The race to develop self-driving technology has resulted in a number of mergers and acquisitions over the past few years, the rate of which has to be narrowed.