Nuro Allowed To Test Driverless Vehicles In California

Self-driving delivery vehicle startup Nuro was approved to test its driverless vehicles in California. Nuro and Alphabet’s Waymo are the only two companies to receive a driverless permit, allowing them to test driverless vehicles on public roads in the state.

Nuro uses its driverless vehicle to deliver groceries, which it has tested in Arizona and Texas. Nuro now has permission to “test two light-duty delivery vehicles in nine Bay Area cities.” Specifically, Nuro could test in “designated parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, including portions of the cities of Atherton, East Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale and Woodside.” These driverless vehicles are not allowed to drive faster than 25 mph; they can only operate in fair weather on streets that have a maximum speed limit of 35 mph.

“The safety of the motoring public is the DMV’s top priority, and we do not give out these permits lightly,” California DMV Director Steve Gordon said. “Nuro has met the DMV’s requirements to receive this permit to test their driverless delivery vehicles on California’s public roads.”

There are currently 65 companies that have a permit to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver. In order to receive a fully driverless permit, a vehicle manufacturer must satisfy requirements including:

1. “Providing evidence of insurance or a bond equal to $5 million.”
2. “Verifying vehicles are capable of operating without a driver, meet federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards or have an exemption from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and is an SAE Level 4 or 5 vehicle.”
3. “Confirming vehicles have been tested under controlled conditions that simulate the planned area of operation.”
4. “Notifying local governments of planned testing in the area.”
5. “Developing a Law Enforcement Interaction Plan that provides information to law enforcement and other first responders on how to interact with test vehicles.”
6. “Continuously monitoring the status of test vehicles.”
7. “Training remote operators on the technology being tested.”

Permit holders must “report to the DMV any collisions involving a driverless test vehicle within 10 days and submit an annual report of disengagements.”

Nuro recently released its R2 vehicle prototype, a low-speed driverless vehicle. It has already deployed testing these vehicles in Texas. Nuro was previously testing other vehicles with a safety driver in the Bay Area, but it can now deploy the R2s for testing.

Nuro’s testing has been delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, however, the company plans to begin testing as soon as possible. “Our first plan is to make free deliveries to select customers in Mountain View and the surrounding area,” David Estrada, Nuro’s chief counsel, said. “This will allow us to launch a formal delivery service in partnership with local brands and retailers. The next step in the California regulatory process will be to apply for a full statewide commercial deployment permit to bring our services to California residents throughout the state.”

Estrada noted that “[a]dmittedly, while we have always believed that self-driving delivery vehicles would improve road safety and provide valuable convenience to consumers, we did not foresee our service helping to keep Americans safe from contagion. But the COVID-19 pandemic has expedited the public need for contactless delivery services. Our R2 fleet is custom-designed to change the very nature of driving, and the movement of goods, by allowing people to remain safely at home while their groceries, medicines, and packages, are brought to them.”

California’s decision came after NHTSA gave Nuro special permission to test its driverless vehicles in February; Nuro was the first manufacturer to receive this permission.