During the past two months, a couple of funny looks, toaster-like creatures, have sold groceries from Fry's grocery store to people's homes in Scottsdale, Arizona. Now, residents of the Phoenix suburb are ready to see much more of these robots: Nuro, the self-propelled building and driver of the small machines, announced this morning that it has received an investment of $ 940 million from SoftBank Vision Fund.
The agreement – the biggest investment in a self-propelled company in recent months – continues SoftBank's smooth march in the shipping industry: The Japanese giant has also invested in Uber, Mapbox and parking platform ParkJockey. Last year, $ 2.25 billion was put into General Motors' self-propelled Cruise.
Nuro, which is focused on local deliveries, provides a logical addition to Softbank's roster. Silicon Valley startup was founded in 201
Last year, Nuro announced an agreement with the grocery store megak chain Kroger (which owns Fry & # 39; s Food) to deliver groceries to some Scottsdale customers, and this fall it launched a version of the service with its technology on the modified Toyota Prius cars so that it could keep the safety operators behind the wheel. In December, the team put two human R-1's into the field, with a human-filled chase vehicle that stuck each. Having these people around allows Nuro to study the practical elements of the service, such as how the customers handle getting well from a robot. The next step, says Ferguson, will let them go solo and monitor them far away.
Nuro will use SoftBank's money to build a proper fleet, expand its service beyond a single Scottsdale postal code and collaborate with new partners. "Now we really look to make this a real thing," Ferguson says. And the company looks to get income faster than later. "We should not do R&D for five years." He refused to say where the next service could operate, beyond a "large population." Nuro also licenses its software for self-propelled truck startup Ike and Ferguson say similar agreements are an opportunity.
So far, applications for self-propelled technology have focused mainly on taxi services and long-distance trucking, but Nuro seems to see a nice niche. The distance covered by the average shipment in the United States has fallen well below 100 miles in recent years. "Last mile delivery is a massively growing company," said Andrew Tipping, who runs the transport team at PwC's strategy and consulting business. Groceries are not the easiest to deliver in general – they are heavy, cheap, and require varying cooling – but Americans can use up to $ 100 billion in annual grocery shopping in 2022, per Neilsen study. "It's such a big market, I'm sure one of these companies will crack it," Tipping says.
In fact, the big vendor took a big step in the autonomous driving space last week: Amazon is now an investor in Aurora Innovation, the start-up aid of Ferguson and Li's former Google boss, Chris Urmson. Because if you move things many things super efficiently with people, it's good to do that with robots. And while it means you don't have a human being there to carry the bags to your doorstep, or know to leave them if the customer is not at home, it can make the delivery service cheaper.
A little strange then when Ferguson says Nuro intends to expand the benefits of robotics in general, and concentrates on the delivery business for now. People love to get their stuff brought to them, especially if it means they don't have to spend their Saturdays afternoons with a car full of kids and a suitcase full of groceries. "It's a remarkable thing to give people back the best days of the day," Ferguson says. And his little-now very well-funded robot can be just the trick that makes it back. As long as people are still willing to pull out of the front door to face it in the sidewalk.
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