Nuro R2 autonomous delivery vehicle gets the green light to test on Texas roads

It’ll be delivering hot tamales in Texas soon.

Self-driving vehicle maker Nuro has secured government sign-off on the second generation of its toaster-like delivery bot. Called the R2, Nuro’s delivery vehicle has received crucial regulatory exemption that’ll allow the company to roll out and test 5,000 of its four-wheeled bots on public roads nationwide over the next two years. Testing will start in Houston, Texas, before expanding to other cities.

The dawn of a new regulatory age — Nuro’s announcement this week is precedent setting. The regulatory exemption is the first of its kind issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). One of the reasons Nuro’s secured the exemption is because the R2 is both driverless and passengerless, which removes many of the hurdles autonomous vehicles designed to ferry people have to overcome, like the need for side mirrors or conventional windshields.

Instead, the exemptions allow Nuro to use an energy-absorbing front panel in lieu of a windshield, always-on rear-view cameras, and to dispense with side mirrors entirely. Getting approval has been no small feat — Nuro’s been in discussions with the DOT for three years.

Nuro built its first-gen delivery bot, the R1, in-house. For the R2 it’s partnered with Michigan-based hardware maker Roush. The R2’s autonomous skills come from a combination of 360-degree overlapping cameras, lidar, short- and long-range radar, thermal imaging, and ultrasonics. It has a top speed of 25 MPH and temperature-controlled compartments for keeping groceries cold, or takeout hot.

The key features of Nuro's new R2 self-driving delivery vehicle.Nuro

New uses to come — Autonomous delivery vehicles like the R2 could potentially challenge supermarket delivery services from the likes of Amazon, and takeout delivery services like Seamless, DoorDash, and UberEats. But it could also prove a boon for companies that don’t yet have well-established delivery services, like pharmaceutical companies who might be able to deliver directly and securely to consumers.

If the R2’s narrow profile can cut down on traffic congestion while also managing to get a still-piping pizza to our front door we’re all for it. Not, you know, enough to move to Houston (no offense, Houston, you're just too hot), but we’ll welcome it with smiles and open wallets if it turns up in New York City.