Nuro’s awesome robot delivery pods are tootling into Texas

Having safely completed thousands of grocery deliveries using its autonomous vehicles within a single zip code in Scottsdale, Arizona, Nuro has just launched its next test phase in a much larger area in Houston, Texas.

This time covering four zip codes, Nuro’s self-driving vehicles are running between two Kroger grocery stores and the homes of online shoppers.

The Houston program mirrors last year’s pilot in Scottsdale in that Nuro has started off by using its autonomous Toyota Prius vehicles. Later this year, it will switch over to its much cooler “R1” delivery pod — check out the video above to see it in action. Both vehicles come with all the usual gizmos — sensors, cameras, GPS, and so on — to ensure their safe operation as they navigate Houston’s public roads. The R1 is about two-thirds the length of a Toyota Corolla and has a top speed of 25 mph.

Kroger customers can use an app to place orders seven days a week, with deliveries able to be scheduled for the same or following day. Delivery costs $5.95 with no minimum order required.

Nuro co-founder Dave Ferguson said customers’ response to its self-driving delivery vehicles in Scottsdale had been “enthusiastic,” adding that his team is looking forward to showing off the technology to shoppers in Houston in the coming months.

Kroger, too, seems happy with how things are going, with the chain’s chief digital officer, Yael Cosset, commenting: “Our Arizona pilot program confirmed the flexibility and benefits provided by autonomous vehicles and how much customers are open to more innovative solutions.”

For safety purposes, the self-driving Prius has an engineer inside monitoring the car’s performance. The R1, however, has no one inside, and is instead supervised by an engineer in a car that trails it.

Ferguson said earlier this year that as far as he’s aware, California-based Nuro was the first company to operate a full-fledged, unmanned delivery service for the general public.

There are, however, other outfits working on autonomous technology for similar kinds of services, among them Waymo, AutoX, Udelv, and U.K.-based Oxbotica.

Ferguson founded Nuro just over two years ago with Jiajun Zhu. Both individuals gained valuable experience when they were part of Google’s autonomous-car setup — now Waymo — in its early days.

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