Nuro, the autonomous delivery startup founded in 2016 by former Google engineers Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, is expanding into parcel logistics through a partnership with FedEx.
The multiyear, multiphased strategic partnership announced Tuesday aims to test and ultimately deploy Nuro’s next-generation autonomous delivery vehicle within FedEx operations. This bot will follow Nuro’s more recent R2 bot. Unlike others in the autonomous vehicle industry, Nuro has always focused its efforts on designing a low-speed electric self-driving vehicle that transports packages, not people. But those “packages” have been more centered on the delivery of groceries, food and even medical supplies. Nuro has partnered with CVS, Domino’s and Kroger, for instance.
The deal with FedEx marks its first foray into parcels logistics. The pilot program has already started in Houston. This multiyear commitment will allow Nuro to bring its technology to more people in new ways, and eventually reach large-scale deployment, according to Cosimo Leipold, Nuro’s head of partnerships.
FedEx has been working internally on its own autonomous vehicle technology, notably a sidewalk delivery bot. The SameDay Bot, which was named Roxo, was developed in collaboration with DEKA Development & Research Corp. and its founder Dean Kamen, who invented the Segway and iBot wheelchair. FedEx first unveiled its SameDay Bot in February 2019. The FedEx bot is equipped with sensing technology such as lidar and multiple cameras, which when combined with machine learning algorithms should allow the device to detect and avoid obstacles and plot a safe path, all while following the rules of the road (or sidewalk).
The company said at the time it planned to work with AutoZone, Lowe’s, Pizza Hut, Target, Walgreens and Walmart to figure out how autonomous robots might fit into its delivery business. The idea was for FedEx to provide a way for retailers to accept orders from nearby customers and deliver them by bot directly to customers’ homes or businesses the same day. The company has tested the bots in Memphis, Tennessee as well as Plano and Frisco, Texas and Manchester, New Hampshire, according to a spokesperson.
The partnership with Nuro moves away from the sidewalk and onto the road. Nuro’s R2 is bigger and designed to operate on public roads, allowing it to travel farther distances and carry heavier loads.
FedEx said it has made a long-term commitment to use Nuro’s autonomous bots for last-mile delivery at large scale.
“FedEx was built on innovation, and it continues to be an integral part of our culture and business strategy,” said Rebecca Yeung, vice president, advanced technology and innovation, FedEx Corporation.