By on November 3, 2021

While the concept of mobility has often turned out to be a buzz phrase used by executives unsure of where to place hypothetical revenue streams and burgeoning technologies, it has simultaneously yielded a handful of enterprising business premises with the potential to stand on their own. Nuro, the American robotics company fielding pint-sized delivery drones, is among them and has made a case for itself by eliminating humans from the equation entirely and providing unique scenarios for its services.

The startup has been getting a smattering of positive attention since its formation in 2015 and recently raised $600 million during its latest funding round, bringing its valuation to an impressive $8.6 billion. 

According to the robotics firm, financing was led by Tiger Global Management with help from Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management & Research Company, LLC, Gaorong Capital, Google, Kroger, SoftBank Vision Fund 1, various accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., Woven Capital, and other investors participating in the company’s Series D funding round.

“We’re thrilled to have the backing of these prominent investors and world class companies, and honored that they support our vision of improving communities and revitalizing local commerce,” stated Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president. “We believe this investment will allow us to accelerate our commercialization strategy and better everyday life with Nuro’s technology.”

Said commercialization pertains to the expansion of the company’s R2 “zero-occupant autonomous delivery vehicles” currently being tested in several American cities. We’ve even seen them serving as delivery bots for Domino’s Pizza without incident. Kroger has similarly opted to see how the company handles grocery drop-offs in select areas, with leadership reportedly being pleased with the arrangement.

“Kroger launched its partnership with Nuro in 2018 to explore grocery delivery through autonomous vehicles,” said Yael Cosset, Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer for Kroger. “Since then, Kroger and Nuro completed thousands of deliveries to our customers — driving innovation that supports our expanding seamless ecosystem by creating consistent and rewarding customer experiences with scalable, sustainable, and profitable solutions.”

Nuro’s greatest attributes haven’t been perfected yet, however. While the company has previously said one of its largest strengths will be sending autonomous drones into disaster areas (e.g. nuclear emergencies, viral outbreaks, wildfire zones, war-torn cities) to bring in the necessary goods, we’ve continued seeing drones accompanied by human supervisors riding around on electric scooters for mundane delivery tasks. Though this is hardly a phenomenon limited to Nuro. True vehicular autonomy has likewise remained elusive for legacy automakers boasting far more capital to fling at R&D.

It would be a lie to suggest Nuro had fallen behind the pack — and not just because it’s pursuing for different use case for AVs than businesses who also happen to sell passenger cars.

Nuro’s co-founders, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, each worked on the Google self-driving car project that later became Waymo and the company has showcased its delivery robots are capable of operating independently during specialized testing in California, Texas, and Arizona. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also gave Nuro approval to deploy up to 5,000 R2 vehicles on public roads in 2020, dividing the quota between two years. In August, the company announced it was setting aside $40 million to construct a factory and closed-course test track for its robotic delivery vehicles in Nevada. Nuro said the facilities will encompass 125,000 square feet of space across at least 80 acres of property, some of which would be shared with the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

During the funding announcement, the company reiterated its commitments in Nevada and recent negotiations that led to a five-year partnership with FedEx. Nuro has since signed onto another strategic alliance with Google Cloud to “support the massive scale and capacity required to run self-driving simulation workloads, machine learning to improve model accuracy, and storage to manage important data from the vehicles.”

[Images: Nuro]

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