Jiajun Zhu, co-founder and CEO of autonomous robotics company Nuro, joined TechCrunch onstage during TC Sessions: Mobility on Wednesday to discuss how the startup is aiming to revolutionize work Commercial auto delivery.
The company is best known for its cute self-driving delivery vans, which work on roads, not sidewalks, and are built for pizza and packages rather than people. Nuro recently unveiled its third-generation electric delivery robot, Nuro .The company is building a new $40 million manufacturing facility and closed test track in southern Nevada.
Nuro, which has raised more than $2.13 billion since its founding in 2016, has locked down a range of commercial partners, like Domino’s, Kroger, FedEx and 7 Elevenand is active and tested in multiple states.
TechCrunch managing editor Matt Burns sat down with Zhu to talk about Nuro’s path to commercialization, the opportunities and challenges of AV distribution, and where the industry and Nuro are headed.
Here are three key takeaways from their discussion.
Zhu suggests that LA could be Nuro’s next market
Nuro is currently operating and testing in California, Arizona and Texas, with a focus on Houston and the San Francisco Bay Area as the company’s initial markets, according to Zhu. When asked what markets the startup is targeting next, Zhu said Nuro will likely make an announcement on that soon, but something tells us Los Angeles could be the target. nearest.
“We recently announced that we are also collecting and mapping data in LA,” Zhu said Wednesday. “Our focus right now is on trying to make service really, really good and make our customers happy and super excited in our existing markets.”
Nuro announced that they started mapping in LA in April, said in a Average post that the company will soon begin testing autonomous vehicles in the region using its fleet of Toyota Prius vehicles.
“Over the next few months, Angelenos can expect to see Nuro vehicles on public roads, and later this year we will begin testing autonomous driving in specific neighborhoods across the country,” the company said. LA County,” the company said in the post. “While we are not yet fully deployed in LA, residents of Nuro can see these vehicles laying the foundation for our automated delivery service.”
Don’t get attached to the idea that Nuro is a delivery company
“Nuro is really a robotics company,” said Zhu. “We don’t see Nuro as a delivery company or a self-driving car company. Our mission is to improve everyday life through robotics. ”
When Dave Ferguson, president and co-founder of Nuro and Zhu, founded Nuro with the belief that within 20 years, robots would be everywhere, helping people live better lives. Choosing to focus on distribution does not give the impression that distribution is the most important path, but rather, it is simply one of the first.
“We looked at all these different verticals and asked ourselves, which one is going to have the biggest impact on a lot of people?” Zhu said. “We have this unique expertise and capacity with which we can build something better than other companies, with potential. What product could have that impact in a reasonable timeline, not 10 years from now, but something we can see and use in a reasonable timeline? ”
Now, the market opportunity to ship goods across a variety of retail verticals allows Nuro to be a real business, not just a science experiment. Zhu said Americans take up to 100 billion trips a year to shop and run errands. Automation has the potential to save a lot of people time. But Nuro doesn’t rule out other ways to save people time – Zhu said he’s particularly interested in home robots.
“I really want a robot that can fold my laundry in the future,” he said.
The benefits of partnering with an automotive OEM on a robot
Nuro has partnered with BYD North America on the latest-generation delivery robot, and Zhu says it’s designed for production.
“We believe that the first car of automotive quality will be mass-produced,” said Zhu. “It has a much larger cargo space based on all the feedback and input we’ve learned [from previous iterations]. ”
As Nuro works to speed up its self-driving technology, being able to produce vehicles with the backing of a major automaker is critical to scaling and profitability.
Another benefit is being able to include automotive-grade speed and safety features. The Nuro can drive up to 45 mph, giving it plenty of geographic range but eliminating the need for highway driving. It also has safety features like airbags at the front of the vehicle rather than the inside, so it can protect vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists. The Nuro also has active heating and cooling so it can deliver a hot pizza and a cold beer at the same time, said Zhu.