California has granted its first approval for a commercial autonomous delivery service to start-up Nuro.
The company had previously secured state permits allowing it to test autonomous vehicles and to make use of public roads, but the Department of Motor Vehicles approval now allows it to charge for its robot-operated services.
The company said it plans to launch limited services in the state early next year using autonomous Prius vehicles before transitioning to its purpose-built R2 delivery robots.
The issued Autonomous Vehicle Deployment permit – the first California has issued – covers designated areas of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.
Nuro, founded in 2016 by former Google staff members Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, said it plans to initially offer services in one city, delivering offerings from one partner, but declined to name the city or partner.
The company is based in Mountain View, in Santa Clara County, and some industry watchers have speculated it may initially launch in that city.
“Issuing the first deployment permit is a significant milestone in the evolution of autonomous vehicles in California,” California DMV director Steve Gordon said in a statement.
The permit allows Nuro to use surface streets with speed imits of up to 35 mph in areas that include the cities of Atherton, East Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale and Woodside.
The vehicles may drive at a maximum of 25 mph in fair weather conditions only.
Nuro initially trialled its self-driving technology using modified Toyota Prius sedans in delivery trials in Arizona and Texas before launching its R1 vehicle in December 2018 and the second-generation R2 in February of this year.
The US-built vehicle is guided by lidar, radar and cameras and has no steering wheel, pedals or side-view mirrors.
The R2, which is slightly smaller than an ordinary passenger car, houses two temperature-controlled compartments, accessed via doors that raise up when the customer enters a code.
In a trial in Houston the R2 delivered pizza from Domino’s, groceries from the Kroger chain and products from Walmart.
At present California has only issued five permits for tests of driverless vehicles on public roads, to AutoX, Cruise, Nuro, Waymo and Zoox.
Google’s Waymo began operating a commercial driverless taxi service in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona in October, with Alibaba trialling a similar service in Shanghai.
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