Nuro has already set a regulatory milestone this year. In February, the U.S. Department of Transportation granted the company an exemption from certain federal motor vehicle safety standards. The exemption allows the deployment of as many as 5,000 of the R2 delivery vehicles, which do not have otherwise-mandated features such as backup cameras, windshields or sideview mirrors.
While the federal government's standards apply to vehicles, states have traditionally set rules and regulations surrounding drivers and licensing of drivers.
Tuesday's developments come during growing overall demand for delivery services, as consumers across the country shelter in place in an attempt to stave off the coronavirus. Inadvertently, the health crisis has perhaps highlighted the potential benefits of such services.
"Admittedly, while we have always believed that small 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," writes David Estrada, Nuro's chief legal and policy officer. "But the COVID-19 pandemic has expedited the public need for contactless delivery services."
The R2 vehicle itself is smaller than a conventional light-duty vehicle and has a maximum speed of 25 mph. It has no room for occupants and instead has two compartments tailor-made for hauling groceries or other goods.
There's not yet a set date when the driverless testing will begin, but Nuro says it has begun the logistical planning necessary for those deployments. Those potentially include partnerships with local brands and retailers, though per the permit, Nuro cannot charge a delivery fee.