Nuro, a developer of autonomous driving technology backed by SoftBank and Chipotle, is investing $40 million to set up an assembly facility and test site near Las Vegas in preparation for ramping up the production of thousands of battery-powered robotic delivery vehicles.
The Mountain View, California-based company says construction of its 125,000-square-foot assembly facility begins late this year in Southern Nevada. It is to open in 2022 and begin putting together small commercial vehicles built from platforms supplied by electric truckmaker BYD’s Lancaster, California, factory. The facility will eventually be able to turn out tens of thousands of units of Nuro’s next-generation delivery bot, temporarily known as the R3, annually, according to cofounder and President Dave Ferguson. The company’s closed-course track to test its vehicles will be set up a few miles away at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and also open in 2022.
“We’re not going to be building tens of thousands of vehicles from day one, but certainly that’s the intent, to dramatically scale up our ability to manufacture vehicles. That’s the intent of this third-generation platform,” Ferguson tells Forbes. “We haven’t given any details on that (vehicle) yet, but will be doing that shortly. It’s intended to be our mass-manufactured scale platform to hopefully provide service across the entire country.”
Founded by two former members of the Google Self-Driving Car Project, in 2016 Nuro has focused exclusively on developing driverless vehicles for deliveries and logistics, not robotic taxis like those of Waymo, the commercial incarnation of Google’s program. The company has raised a prodigious amount of funding, totaling at least $1.5 billion from investors including SoftBank, Chipotle, Fidelity, Greylock Partners and Toyota’s Woven Capital, giving it an estimated valuation of $5 billion, according to Pitchbook.
Along with developing software for autonomous driving, the company continues to refine designs for dedicated delivery vehicles. Its current fleet of robotic R2s are small, toaster-shaped vehicles that have been used in delivery pilot programs hauling groceries, food, pizza and FedEx packages. The company got approval from the Department of Transportation to deploy the R2, which has no steering wheel or conventional accelerator or brake pedals, to operate at low speeds on public roads. So far, the company has focused on deploying the vehicles in delivery fleets in residential and suburban communities, and restricting their speed to a maximum of 25 miles per hour.
Ferguson says the vehicles to be made in Nevada could be slightly larger and faster than the R2, though he declined to provide specific details.
The assembly facility and test track will employ 250 people and generate as much as $2.2 billion in economic benefits for Nevada in its first 10 years, according to an estimate from the governor’s Office of Economic Development.
Nuro said it’s taking over 74 acres at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to set up its test track, which will help train its robotic vehicles to avoid harming pedestrians, pets, bicyclists and other vehicles. It will also be used for environmental tests and to validate vehicle systems.
“This is a significant moment for Nuro,” cofounder and CEO Jiajun Zhu said in a statement. “Building on our tremendous momentum—including strategic partnerships with industry leaders such as Domino’s, Kroger, and FedEx and operations in three states—we are now able to invest in the infrastructure to build tens of thousands of robots.”