This week, California startup Nuro revealed a $92 million Series A, which closed in mid-2017.
Founded by former Google engineers Jiajun Zhu and Dave Ferguson, Nuro is set to launch a small, self-driving delivery van for last-mile urban delivery.
Nuro's pitch to consumers (and, inevitably, to local and federal legislators still wary of self-driving technology) will be that its pint-sized, battery-powered vans are safer than human-piloted vehicles and will relieve congestion and pollution by taking bigger delivery trucks off crowded city streets.
Its pitch to enterprise customers will be that the vehicles save money by optimizing delivery routes, decreasing accidents, and reducing workforces.
No word who Nuro's early customers might be, but e-commerce giant Amazon is one possible candidate. Small retailers could also benefit. It's easy to imagine city-wide services that utilize Nuro's vans to give small retailers in-city delivery capabilities.
Nuro's vans contain cubbies that can be fitted with refrigeration or heating units. During delivery, the vehicles pull curbside to allow recipients to access ordered goods.
Another self-driving vehicle developer with Google DNA, Aurora, also came out of hiding over the past month. Founded by Chris Urmson, former head of Google's self-driving car program, and Sterling Anderson, the former head of Tesla's Autopilot program, Aurora has partnered with Hyundai and Volkswagen.
That Nuro is hoping to bring its delivery vans to city streets this year is yet another sign that the race to commercialize self-driving vehicles is entering an important phase.
Waymo, Alphabet Inc.'s self-driving car spinoff, is also moving out of the lab this year when a fleet of Pacifica minivans outfitted with Waymo tech will begin offering rides in the Phoenix area.
One reason Nuro, which has been testing its self-driving technology since 2016, has been able to advance toward market so quickly is that its vehicles are intended for low-speed use in cities only. Nuro's vans use shorter-range LiDAR and radar sensors than autonomous vehicles that travel at highway speeds. The limited use cases for the vans have helped hasten development.