While growth of the Internet and its access to the masses has made it possible for e-commerce businesses to start in different parts of the world, it is the reliable delivery service that has been the backbone of these flourishing businesses today. From food and medicines to clothes and other consumer essentials, items can be ordered from anywhere via mobile phones. With lockdowns imposed in various nations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the need has grown further.
Nuro, a 2016 startup founded by Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, aims to utilise technologies like robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) for common well-being. The team has designed, prototyped, and extensively tested a fully autonomous electric vehicle (EV) to make transportation of local goods more accessible, including groceries, prescription drugs, dry cleaning, and much more.
For self-driving, the vehicle uses its onboard sensors (like high-definition cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors, and audio sensors) to provide a 360-degree live image of the surrounding area, calculate its location and localise its position in the world map. High-definition 3D maps mark road features such as lane centres and markers, curbs, traffic signs and lights, crosswalks and speed bumps, and help in figuring the safest and most efficient route to the destination. Finally, the vehicle’s computer signals the relevant hardware systems for steering, acceleration, brake, or taking a turn whenever required. The greater the movement, the smarter the system gets by learning more about the path and behaviour of drivers via the implementation of computer vision and advanced machine learning.
There are no drivers or passengers, and lower speed operation at/or below 40kmph enables more time for reaction and prevents collisions. The vehicle emits zero emissions, and alternative fuels are used to power these vehicles. Also, there are no parking and network connectivity issues for these lightweight and narrow-framed machines. Extensive testing is conducted before the vehicle begins driving on roads, and even during operation, it checks for errors hundreds of times per second for safety and collision avoidance. It never gets distracted like human drivers and focuses on defensive driving.
With multiple compartments, multiple trips can be combined that lower the energy, lessen congestion on roads and economic costs. Customers do not have to bend over to lift items. The doors open without swinging far out, enabling the bot to avoid blocking cars. Unlike traditional vehicles, softer materials are used for the front and rear panels, and design is such that it minimises chances of injury.
The company started with vehicles making trips in the neighbourhood for grocery delivery. Customers can place delivery orders on the Web or through a mobile app. Recently, the company began working with CVS Pharmacy to provide prescriptions and essentials through its vehicles in the US. The customers can place orders on the CVS website or via mobile app and select free autonomous delivery options at their preferred location during the pilot. When the autonomous Prius vehicles (and later on delivery bot R2) reach the location, users need to confirm their identity to unlock their delivery.