Interview: How An AI Robotics Company Is Pioneering A Future Of Autonomous Delivery
Nuro co-founder and president Dave Ferguson explains why automated delivery for consumer goods like grocery and beyond is poised to provide next-level accessibility and convenience at reduced cost, all while improving safety, creating jobs and reducing pollution
As AI and automation become increasingly prevalent in more aspects of the consumer's life, the automotive category stands out as a category particularly vulnerable to disruption. Nuro, a technology company based in Silicon Valley, is working on developing autonomous solutions and using robotics to improve human life. Founders Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, who also served as principal engineers for Google's self-driving car concept (now Waymo), developed Nuro to offer a fully autonomous, on-road vehicle designed to transport goods more quickly and conveniently than before.
PSFK spoke to Dave Ferguson, co-founder and president of Nuro about the future of automation and what a world full of self-driving cars might look like.
PSFK: Could you explain some of the broader trends you're seeing in automotive innovation and how you apply them to your work?
Dave Ferguson: We’re seeing a great deal of innovation within the autonomous vehicle industry. When Jiajun [Zhu] and I founded Nuro, our mission was clear from the start: We want to accelerate the benefits of robotics for everyday life. The platform, and space in which we operate, is local goods transportation. If we could eliminate people from vehicles, and focus on the convenient and affordable delivery of goods, we could have massive impact quickly.
What led you to start Nuro? What gaps were you seeing in the market?
We spend billions of hours running errands each year. That is so much wasted time when we could be doing things that we love. When we founded Nuro, we wanted to give people back this time through the creation of a delivery service that people everywhere could use. Only 2% of groceries are delivered currently—mainly because of prohibitive cost. If we could reduce the cost, and use vehicles that are the safest drivers on the road, that felt like a really strong realization of self-driving technology.
Can you explain the experience of using Nuro, from the customer's POV?
Overall, it’s a fairly user-friendly experience, and we’ve certainly learned and adjusted based on the customer experience we’ve seen in Scottsdale, Arizona.
When ready to purchase, customers currently place an order for their groceries either via Frysfood.com or via the Fry’s Food mobile app. When our customer vehicle, R1, shows up at their curb, they'll receive a PIN code via text message to enter on R1’s screen. Proper entry of the code leads the compartment door to open. Once customers have gotten all the groceries out, they press the button on the screen to close the door. They can also reset this if they accidentally pressed the button too early.
What does Nuro add to the customer experience that didn't exist before? What problems does it solve for?
Most notably, the December 2018 introduction of R1 to our Kroger pilot in Arizona marked the launch of the first unmanned, on-road delivery service to the general public.
With the customer experience in mind, we've taken a completely unique approach to our custom vehicle. Once a delivery order is placed, we’ll send customers a text message that includes both a unique PIN code that unlocks the R1’s compartment door and vehicle location tracking. Once the vehicle is curbside at its delivery location, customers can input their PIN to retrieve their groceries. The doors on the R1 are custom designed to lift up, ensuring easy access when moving groceries in and out of the compartments.
How do you envision the future of automated vehicles and delivery?
We only envision the appetite for automated vehicles and delivery growing stronger. More innovation yields increased accessibility and convenience to consumers as well as reduced cost. People will be able to shop more efficiently and get hours back in their day.
What do the next five years hold for Nuro and its growth?
In the next five years, we plan to expand Nuro’s scale in terms of service, operations and R&D. We have been servicing the Scottsdale, AZ area and plan to expand nationally to other regions. We also plan to expand our delivery beyond grocery, using R1 to deliver other types of goods. Our goal for Nuro is a product that in turn helps improve safety, create jobs, reduce pollution and make home delivery more affordable to all.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
With our recent Series B, we plan to continue to grow as a company, increasing the size of our team, fleets and service. We strongly believe Nuro is a product made for everyone, which will not only benefit us in safety and convenience, but also support a better environment in the long run.
Nuro is enabling a future of optimal customer service and satisfaction with innovative delivery & logitics capabilities that not only enhance convenience, but also reduce environmental impact. For more from similar inspiring pioneers, see PSFK's reports and newsletters.