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Dominos is Delivering Pizzas in Houston Using Small Autonomous Vehicles Built by Silicon Valley Startup Nuro

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【Summary】Silicon Valley startup Nuro announced a new partnership with Dominos to deliver pizza orders using its compact, driverless delivery vehicles. Beginning this week, Domino's is rolling out a robot car delivery service to select customers in Houston. The pizzas will arrive in one of Nuro’s tiny autonomous vehicles.

FutureCar Staff    Apr 13, 2021 2:35 PM PT
Dominos is Delivering Pizzas in Houston Using Small Autonomous Vehicles Built by Silicon Valley Startup Nuro

Developers of autonomous vehicles have focused on all types of applications for the technology, including self-driving cars, autonomous long-haul trucks, robotaxis, and tiny delivery robots. But without a regulatory framework for the deployment of self-driving vehicles designed to carry passengers, its likely that the first self-driving vehicles will carry goods or freight instead of people.

One company working on autonomous delivery is Silicon Valley startup Nuro. The company announced this week a new partnership with Dominos to deliver pizza orders using its compact, driverless delivery vehicles.

Beginning this week, Domino's is rolling out a robot car delivery service to select customers in Houston. The pizzas will arrive in one of Nuro's tiny autonomous vehicles, which are purposely built to carry cargo and not people.

After a customer places their order from Domino's, they will receive texts with updates on the location of the Nuro's delivery vehicle. Shortly before the food order arrives, customers will receive a numerical code that can be used to unlock a secure compartment on the Nuro vehicle to retrieve their order. 

Nuro's autonomous delivery vehicles are poised to transform the way people receive goods, including last-mile deliveries of meals, groceries and e-commerce packages, especially in urban areas where operating a full-size vehicle is more challenging. The partnership with Domino's will also provide valuable feedback for the two companies on how autonomous delivery might work in the future.

"There is still so much for our brand to learn about the autonomous delivery space," said Dennis Maloney, Domino's senior vice president and chief innovation officer about the pilot program. "This program will allow us to better understand how customers respond to the deliveries, how they interact with the robot and how it affects store operations."

Nuro's self-driving delivery testing began in 2018 with grocery chain Kroger.

Last year, Nuro was granted a permit from the state of California to deploy its compact autonomous delivery vehicles on public roads in Silicon Valley without a human backup driver, which might help the company expand its autonomous delivery business.

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The Nuro R2 electric autonomous delivery vehicle.

Unlike self-driving passenger vehicles or commercial robotaxis, Nuro's vehicles face fewer regulatory hurdles for commercial deployment. Since they are not designed to carry people the delivery vehicles can be built without seatbelts, air bags, windshield wipers, mirrors and other mandatory systems that are required for other vehicles that are designed to carry passengers.

Without these additional systems, Nuro's R2 vehicle is a more affordable option for companies like Domino's to deliver orders. In addition, the R2 can be engineered and built from the ground up more quickly, Nuro said.

The R2 is limited to speeds of just 25mph and has a specially designed pedestrian-protecting front end. It's software is designed to make it as safe as possible for navigating around pedestrians and other vehicles. It's also more maneuverable in tight places than a full-size vehicle.

"This launch is really a glimpse of what's to come. An autonomous pizza delivery to a customer in Houston will translate to deliveries of all kinds to people in all places. We want to build an equitable and accessible future with the promise of lower emissions, safer streets, and more communities that participate in the economic growth of autonomous delivery," wrote Nuro co-founder Dave Ferguson in a blog post.

Nuro's team includes experts in robotics, AI and autonomous vehicles. Many of Nuro's employees previously worked on autonomous driving projects at top companies such as Google, Apple, Uber and Tesla.

This is not the first time Domino's is testing autonomous delivery. The company also worked with automaker Ford Motor Co on an autonomous pizza delivery pilot. In 2017, Ford and Domino's launched an industry-first collaboration to understand the role that self-driving vehicles can play in pizza delivery.

For the 2017 pilot, randomly-selected Domino's customers in Ann Arbor, MI were offered the opportunity to receive their delivery order from Ford's Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle, which was manually-driven by a Ford safety engineer and staffed with researchers to study how the service might work in the future. 

Last month, Nuro announced it closed on a $500 million Series C financing round. Participating in the funding round was restaurant chain Chipotle, indicating that the company might be planning to use autonomous vehicles for food deliveries in the future. 

The recent investments give Nuro a valuation of over $5 billion as the industry inches closer to commercializing autonomous delivery services.

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