Autonomous vehicle startup Nuro has been given the green light to begin charging a fee and receiving compensation for a driverless delivery service in California, following regulatory approval Wednesday from the state's Department of Motor Vehicles.
The move comes after the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved two new programs in November that allow operators of autonomous vehicles to launch their own robotaxis in the state.
California's first-ever autonomous vehicle deployment permit allows Nuro to operate with new and existing retail partners in designated parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties in the Bay Area, including the cities of Atherton, East Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale and Woodside.
"Soon we will announce our first deployment in California with an established partner," Nuro chief legal and policy officer David Estrada said in a blog post. "The service will start with our fleet of [Toyota] Prius vehicles in fully autonomous mode, followed by our custom-designed electric R2 vehicles."
Nuro's R2 vehicles, which were designed exclusively to carry packages, have a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour and are approved to operate only in fair weather conditions on streets with a speed limit of no more than 35 mph. The vehicles have previously been used to provide contactless deliveries for coronavirus patients and staff at medical care facilities in San Mateo and Sacramento, and for autonmous grocery delivery for local food banks.
The announcement comes amid a milestone year for Nuro, which said separately Wednesday that it would acquire self-driving truck startup Ike Robotics.
Nuro became the first company to obtain a self-driving vehicle exemption from the Department of Transportation in February. The company received a driverless testing permit from California in April after operating on public roads in the state with a safety driver since 2017. In October, the company announced its R2 vehicles could operate without drivers, occupants, or chase cars in California, Texas and Arizona.
“Issuing the first deployment permit is a significant milestone in the evolution of autonomous vehicles in California,” state DMV Director Steve Gordon said. “We will continue to keep the safety of the motoring public in mind as this technology develops.”
In addition to meeting federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards or having an exemption from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, autonomous vehicle deployment permit applicants will be required to show how their vehicles are capable of avoiding hazards and create a plan for how the vehicles will interact with police and other emergency responders.