The US Department of Transportation (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) approved a regulatory exemption for R2, Nuro's second-generation vehicle. As the first company to be granted approval for a self-driving vehicle exemption, it's an important moment for Nuro and a milestone for the industry.
This decision provides regulatory certainty for Nuro to operate their second-generation self-driving vehicle, built to carry packages instead of people. Nuro custom-designed R2 for last-mile delivery of consumer products, groceries, and hot food from local stores and restaurants. With its specially designed size, weight, pedestrian-protecting front end, operating speed, electric propulsion, and cautious driving habits, R2 is ready to begin service as a socially responsible neighborhood vehicle. In the coming weeks, R2 will begin public road testing to prepare for its first deliveries to customers' homes in Houston, Texas. For more information see the IDTechEx report on Autonomous Cars and Robotaxis 2020-2040: Players, Technologies and Market Forecast.
R2: The Next Generation of Local Commerce
Nuro's journey began with the R1 robot, which launched in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2018 with Kroger — the first-ever unmanned delivery service for the general public. R1 was a success and Nuro learned that this new class of vehicle could provide both convenience and safer streets for families and communities. With the second-generation vehicle, R2, Nuro wanted to retain the unique design and the key characteristics — including zero-emission propulsion — that made R1 a success and to extend the vehicle's lifespan, add more cargo space, and handle more varied conditions at a greater, city-wide scale.
Rather than custom-making each individual vehicle, as with R1, Nuro partnered with Roush, a full-service product development supplier based in Michigan, to design and assemble high-quality vehicles in the United States. Nuro developed a more durable custom vehicle body, to handle inclement weather. The sensor array was updated with both supplier-provided and custom, in-house sensors. Two-thirds more compartment space was added without increasing vehicle width, and Nuro introduced temperature control to help keep food fresh. R2 uses a custom battery solution that nearly doubled the R2 battery size, enabling all day operation.
Exemptions for a Safer Vehicle
R2 also features safety innovations designed to keep what's outside the vehicle safer than what's inside. To get the most benefit from these innovations, Nuro applied for a regulatory exemption from NHTSA.
Federal vehicle standards were written for today's passenger cars and trucks. The DOT exemption process is designed to accommodate unforeseen technologies like R2 that can enhance safety. The decision shows that "exemption" can mean more safety. It allows Nuro to replace the mirrors relied on by human drivers with cameras and other sensors, to round the edges of the vehicle body to take up less road space, and make it safer for those around it. The R2 uses a specially designed panel at the vehicle's front that absorbs energy, better protecting pedestrians. Nuro won't have to ever turn off the rearview cameras that help R2 see (part of a rule meant to avoid distracting human drivers), providing a constant 360-degree view with no blind spots.
This exemption comes after a long process that demonstrated the safety of Nuro's vehicle and DOT's commitment to public safety. It follows three years of discussion with the agency, detailed submissions of information on Nuro's technology, and supportive comments from leaders in the communities of operation, long-standing partners, and fellow citizens concerned about road safety.
What Comes Next
Public road testing with R2 in Houston begins in the coming weeks. This will provide additional valuable real-world data on how people react to the delivery vehicles.
DOT has taken a critical first step in enabling safety innovations, but exemptions are a temporary fix for an industry that's reimagining what it means to drive. According to Nuro, moving forward, we must modernize the existing regulations that never envisioned a vehicle without a driver or occupants, and everyone in the industry must work to ensure self-driving technology is tested and deployed in the safest possible vehicles.
This exemption and the second-generation Nuro vehicle are "firsts" for the autonomous vehicle industry, and they will be followed by many more.
Source and top image: Nuro