Nuro, a startup targeting the multibillion-dollar autonomous delivery robot market, has attracted sizeable venture capital from Softbank. The Japanese holding conglomerate today announced that it has invested almost $1 billion — $940 million — in Nuro through its Vision Fund, at a valuation of around $2.7 billion. That’s up substantially from the $92 million in series A financing Nuro secured last year.
Nuro was cofounded in 2016 by Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, both veterans of the secretive Google self-driving car project that eventually spun out as Waymo. Currently, the Mountain View, California-based company has about 200 employees and 100 contract workers and is working on a pilot program with Kroger to ferry goods between shoppers and a few of the grocery giant’s 2,800 stores in 35 states. (A Kroger-owned Fry’s Foods store in Phoenix began using Nuro’s technology in December.)
Deliveries are facilitated largely through Nuro’s smartphone app, which allows customers to track their order. After a Nuro car arrives, customers verify their identity with a password or form of biometric authentication and retrieve their goods.
When Nuro emerged from stealth in January 2018, it unveiled the R1, a thin, short, driverless delivery vehicle with a slew of cameras, laser sensors, and temperature-controlled compartments. It has a top speed of 25 miles per hour and is fully driverless — although for now it is accompanied by human-driven cars. Nuro has also been experimenting with a fleet of Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf cars equipped with a proprietary mix of hardware and software.
Nuro has deployed six delivery vehicles so far and plans to test its autonomous system on 50 cars on roads in California, Arizona, and Texas — with safety drivers behind the wheel. It’s also in talks with automakers about partnerships that might include sharing or licensing its platform, Ferguson told the Wall Street Journal.
Nuro occupies an industry filled with well-funded startups like Marble, Starship Technologies, BoxBot, Dispatch, and Robby Technologies, to name a few. That’s not to mention companies like Robomart, which recently announced plans to test its driverless grocery store on wheels; Udelv, which partnered with Farmstead in the Bay Area to transport perishables to customers’ doorsteps; Ford, which is collaborating with Postmates to deliver items from Walmart stores in Miami-Dade County; and Amazon, which last month debuted Scout, an autonomous delivery robot.
The McKinsey Institute forecasts, in fact, that driverless rovers like Serve, Scout, BoxBot, and Marble will make up 85 percent of last-mile deliveries by 2025.