Are we ready for our Uber Eats orders to arrive via robot?
A deal between Nuro and Uber heralds a new food-delivery future. Here's what to expect.
Someday over the next decade, if you live in Texas or California, a roughly car-sized robot could deliver your Uber Eats order to your curb. That’s thanks to a 10-year partnership between Uber and a company called Nuro that’s set to start this fall. This curbside grab-and-go scheme was announced today.
Nuro is known for creating autonomous electric vehicles that can schlep stuff like groceries or pizza down the road; those vehicles have no room in them for humans. In January, the company unveiled the newest version of this self-driving delivery machine, which, like the company itself, is called Nuro. This latest iteration of bot can transport almost 500 pounds of goods, keeping them hot or cold as needed. It even sports an airbag on the outside of its front end, so that if ever accidentally bumps into anyone, hopefully the harm will be minimal.
The newest Nuro vehicle follows two predecessors, both also designed to take deliveries where they need to go along public streets. In February of 2020 Nuro revealed the R2 machine, which is about 9 feet long and 3.6 feet wide. The R2 unit followed the company’s original version, the R1, which Dave Ferguson, the company’s cofounder, described in 2018 as being about the size of “a big guy on a motorbike.”
The company won’t say exactly the size of the latest Nuro vehicle, but does note that it is about 20 percent smaller, width-wise, than a regular car.
Today, the company lists three different vehicles in its fleet: the Nuro, the R2, and the P2, which is different from the others—it’s a Toyota Prius, with room for humans in it, outfitted with specialized hardware. P2 rolls with “onboard safety operators,” the company says on its website.
With the Uber Eats deal, which will take place in Houston, Texas and Mountain View, California (as well as eventually the larger San Francisco Bay area), the company says that all of their different vehicle types will be involved. “We will be utilizing three different vehicles from the Nuro autonomous fleet including Nuro,” a Nuro spokesperson said via email. “We have committed to using Nuro with Uber at a mutually agreed upon time during the term of the partnership.”
However, it remains unclear to what extent, and when, deliveries will be arriving in truly uncrewed vehicles versus the self-driving Priuses. Nuro has previously carried out programs with the likes of Kroger and Domino’s, but won’t say to what extent those deliveries have occurred with the person-less bots versus the Priuses. “We have made tens of thousands of deliveries to date,” the company said in a statement. “We can’t share the specific number of deliveries for each partner, since these details, along with the types of vehicle deployments and specific deployment plans with partners, are confidential.”
The company added: “We are actively working to increase our deployment of R2 on public roads and intend to learn much more from expanded operations over the next year.”
More specifically, TechCrunch reports that the company “will initially use” the R2 and that the Nuro vehicle will be coming out in “late 2023.”
Ultimately, the robotics company sits at the interesting intersection of EVs, autonomy, and fulfillment of goods and services—and is certainly not the only player in that general space. While some companies like Waymo, Zoox, or Cruise work on creating vehicles that can carry humans from place to place on the road, others are delivering goods from the air, via small drone, like Wing and Zipline. And finally, companies are working on transporting people and cargo through the skies, like Beta Technologies or Joby. It’s a bold new transportation and delivery future—or at least that’s what the companies envision.
With the Nuro-Uber partnership specifically, the Verge reports that it is “the culmination of over four years of start-and-stop negotiations between the two companies.” Food delivery via bot doesn’t always come easily.