Autonomous vehicles have been getting smarter and safer, but can they replace human drivers? We’re about to find out with a new partnership between Uber and a robotic vehicle startup called Nuro. The two have signed a 10-year deal to have Nuro’s robotic vehicles delivering Uber Eats orders, and it might save you some cash if you’re lucky enough to have a robot deliver dinner. 

Nuro was founded in 2016 by former Googlers, and it recently became the first autonomous vehicle company to be granted a commercial license in California, followed by Arizona and Texas. That means Nuro robots can drive on public roads in a business capacity, as opposed to strictly for research, earning money for the company with every delivery. That makes it a natural choice for Uber’s ongoing efforts to phase out humans. 

The partnership will begin with autonomous deliveries in Mountain View, California and Houston, Texas. Service will expand to the greater Bay Area in the future. These are both regions we’ve seen other driverless vehicles get started — they don’t have the same volatile, inclement weather as many other areas. Rain, snow, and fog can confuse the sensors that allow autonomous vehicles to navigate roadways. Thus, Nuro’s permit with California only allows it to operate in fair weather. 

Uber says that customers in areas with Nuro service will see a notice in the app that their order may arrive in a robot. However, they won’t know until it shows up. The company will allow users to opt-out of autonomous deliveries, but then you’ll have to tip your driver. Any tips added to orders will be refunded if your order is handled by Nuro. 

Nuro’s compact delivery robot is about the size of a go-kart, and the company says it’s powered by renewable energy. Further, Nuro claims its vehicles have the most advanced sensor array in the industry with 360-degree coverage with LIDAR, radar, cameras, and thermal scopes. It’s all backed by custom HD maps and machine learning systems designed to prevent collisions. The small size also apparently makes it better at avoiding obstacles, and in the event of a crash, it won’t do as much damage. 

Nuro and Uber tell TechCrunch that they do not envision the robots replacing gig workers. Instead, they’ll use autonomous vehicles where it makes the most sense. There are still conditions and locations where only humans can be trusted to complete deliveries, but that may not be true for long. As robots get more capable, it seems inevitable that they will take over more driving from people. While Nuro focuses on deliveries, other companies are looking to transport people. That’s a higher-stakes game than dropping off dinner, but the technology is the same, and it’s getting better all the time.

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Source From Extremetech
Author: Ryan Whitwam