Jiajun Zhu, co-founder and CEO of the autonomous robot company Nuro, joined TechCrunch on stage during TC Sessions: Mobility on Wednesday to discuss how the startup aims to revolutionize commercial autonomous delivery.
The company is best known for its cute self-driving delivery vehicles that run on the roads, not the sidewalks, and are specifically designed to transport pizzas and packaging, not people. Nuro recently unveiled its third-generation electric delivery robot, Nuro, which is building a new $ 40 million production facility and a closed-track test track in southern Nevada.
Nuro, which has raised more than $ 2.13 billion since its inception in 2016, has blocked a number of trading partners, such as Domino’s, Kroger, FedEx and 7 Eleven, and is operating and testing in multiple countries.
TechCrunch Managing Editor Matt Burns sat down with Ju to talk about Nuro’s path to commercialization, the opportunities and challenges of AV delivery, and where the industry and Nuro are heading.
Here are three key findings from their discussion.
Ju hints that LA may be Nuro’s next market
Nuro is currently working and testing in California, Arizona and Texas, with a focus on Houston and the San Francisco Bay Area as the company’s primary markets, according to Ju. Asked which markets the startup is targeting next, Ju said Nuro could announce it soon, but something tells us that Los Angeles may be the closest target.
“We recently announced that we are also doing data collection and mapping in LA,” Ju said Wednesday. “Our focus right now is just to try to make the service really, really good and make our customers happy and super excited in our existing markets.”
Nuro announced that he started mapping in LA in April, saying in a Middle post that the company will soon begin testing autonomous vehicles in the region using its Toyota Prius fleet.
“In the next few months, Angelenos can expect to see Nuro’s vehicles on public roads, and later this year we will begin testing autonomous driving in certain neighborhoods in LA County,” the company said in a statement. “Until we are fully located in Los Angeles, Nuro’s vehicles, which residents can see, form the basis of our autonomous delivery service.”
Don’t get attached to the idea of Nuro as a delivery company
“Nuro is really a robotics company,” said Ju. “We do not see Nuro as a supply company or a self-driving car company. Our mission is to improve our daily lives through robotics. ”
When Dave Ferguson, president and co-founder of Nuro, and Ju founded Nuro, he was convinced that within 20 years, robots would be everywhere, helping people have a better life. The choice to focus on delivery was not so much related to the feeling that delivery was the most important route, but more that it would simply be one of the first.
“We looked at all these different verticals and wondered which one would have the biggest impact on a lot of people?” Ju said. “We have this unique experience and competence that we can build something that is better than other companies, potentially. Which product can have this impact in a reasonable time, not in 10 years, but something that we can see and use in a reasonable time?
At the moment, the market opportunity to transport goods through different retail verticals allows Nuro to be a real business, not just a scientific experiment. Ju said Americans make up to 100 billion trips each year to shop and fulfill orders. Automation, which can potentially save a lot of time for many people. But Nuro hasn’t ruled out other ways to save people time – Ju said he was particularly interested in home robots.
“I really want a robot to fold my laundry in the future,” he said.
The benefits of partnering with automotive OEM robot manufacturers
Nuro has partnered with BYD North America for its latest-generation delivery robot, and Zhu said it is designed for production.
“We believe this is the first automotive-quality vehicle to be mass-produced,” said Ju. “It has a lot more cargo space based on all the feedback and information we’ve learned [from previous iterations]”
As Nuro works to accelerate its self-driving technology, the ability to produce vehicles with the support of a major carmaker is crucial for scaling up and making a profit.
Another advantage is the ability to include car-grade speed and safety features. Nuro can drive up to 45 miles per hour, which gives it enough geographical coverage, but eliminates the need to drive on the highway. It also has safety features such as an airbag in the front of the car, not inside, so it can protect vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. Nuro also has active heating and cooling, so it can deliver hot pizza and cold beer at the same time, Ju said.
Top three takeaways from Nuro’s session at TC Sessions: Mobility