Nuro To Start Deliveries For Walmart And Domino’s
Nuro’s self-driving delivery fleet is about to expand.
The robotics company, which is backed by nearly $1B from SoftBank, has been performing deliveries for three Kroger grocery stores in Houston since April, but will soon be kicking off deliveries for two of its other public partners, Domino’s and Walmart.
“We are launching with Domino’s and with Walmart over here in the next few weeks,” Nuro Product Operations Manager Sola Lawal told Bisnow.
Nuro operates a mixed fleet in Houston. Some of its vehicles are modified Toyota Priuses, which have been retrofitted to drive themselves. A safety operator still sits in the vehicle and can take over when necessary.
The other side of the fleet is made up of unmanned robots, which navigate the streets without an operator. The robot is capped at 25 mph and must adhere to various requirements at the state and federal levels, such as insurance, registration and license plates.
Houston is an attractive location to roll out the technology because it has a welcoming regulatory framework provided by the state of Texas, Lawal said.
The city also boasts some major geographical diversity for testing. Neighborhoods like the Houston Heights differ significantly from the sprawling suburbia of Sugar Land, allowing Nuro to test and improve its autonomy systems.
Another factor is that Houstonians already commute long distances, and are reluctant to spend an additional 10 to 15 minutes to visit the grocery store.
“From a market standpoint, it was really attractive for us because people were saying, 'Yeah, I would love the convenience of not having to go out to my car and drive a few more minutes,'” Lawal said.
Self-driving vehicles have been gaining traction in Houston over the last year. The city of Houston, METRO and Texas Southern University have been trialing an autonomous shuttle on that campus, with the intention of expanding the route to the University of Houston.
One of the upsides of autonomous vehicle technology is that few changes need to be made to the physical environment.
“With the partners that we have, there’s actually very little transformation or infrastructure work that they have to do to accommodate us,” Lawal said.
All three of Nuro’s Houston partners already have delivery services or curbside pickup, meaning infrastructure is already in place for that.
As Nuro’s fleet grows, there may be a need for slightly more infrastructure allocation, but it would still be within existing infrastructure, requiring minimal change for businesses to adapt, Lawal said.
In addition to developing and improving its autonomous technology, Nuro is focused on operating largely as a contract delivery business, where it provides the vehicles and robots to partners, but would still own and oversee those products.
“For us, the model really looks like us doing deliveries for them, the same way they would contract anyone to do deliveries,” Lawal said. “For many of them, they are thinking about how they can have multiple types of delivery at multiple different prices. And so our goal is to be a part of that infrastructure.”
Nuro has already hired more than 100 people in Houston. Some are autonomous vehicle operators, while others are technicians, mechanics and IT professionals.
Because of the rapid pace of expansion, Nuro will also likely need to increase its physical footprint. The company already has an undisclosed number of depots in the Houston area, and is considering more locations in the coming months. Factors like existing infrastructure and location of retail partners will influence where Nuro decides to place them.
One of the company’s biggest challenges is recruiting people in Houston who are interested in autonomous vehicles, have the right skills and also happen to have strong driving records.
“We are hoping to build the workforce of the future,” Lawal said.