Softbank Invests $1B in Robo-Delivery Startup Nuro

WIRED | 2/12/2019 | Alex Davies
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For the past two months, a pair of funny-looking, toaster-like creatures have been busily toting groceries from the Fry's Food supermarket to people’s homes in Scottsdale, Arizona.Now, residents of the Phoenix suburb should get ready to see a lot more of these bots: Nuro, the self-driving startup that builds and operates the diminutive automatons, announced this morning it has received a $940 million investment from the SoftBank Vision Fund.

The deal—the biggest investment in a self-driving company in recent months—continues SoftBank’s steady march into the transportation industry: The Japanese giant has also invested in Uber, Mapbox, and parking “platform” ParkJockey. Last year, it put $2.25 billion into General Motor’s self-driving arm, Cruise.

Nuro - Deliveries - Addition - SoftBank - Roster

Nuro, which is focused on local deliveries, makes a logical addition to SoftBank’s roster. The Silicon Valley startup was founded in 2016 by Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, both early and longtime members of Google’s self-driving car effort (now a standalone Alphabet company known as Waymo). In the past two and a half years, it has built a team of 200 full-time employees and about 100 contractors, and produced a few copies of its R-1 robot, which is a bit smaller than a standard sedan. It can carry more stuff than sidewalk delivery bots being developed by companies like Marble, and while it drives in the street, its slim profile makes moving safely easier, Ferguson says.

Last summer, Nuro announced a deal with grocery mega-chain Kroger (which owns Fry’s Food) to deliver groceries for some Scottsdale customers, and in the fall it started a version of the service using its technology on modified Toyota Prius cars, so it could keep safety operators behind the wheel. In December, the team put two human-free R-1s into the field, with a human-filled chase vehicle tailing each. Having those humans around lets Nuro study the...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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