Aug 23, 2019

Nuro could help set rules for unmanned delivery vehicles

Nuro's unmanned delivery vehicles are half the width of a Toyota Camry and limited to 25 mph. Photo: Nuro

U.S. transportation officials are considering a new class of motor vehicles — ones with no occupants — in preparation for an expected surge in robot deliveries of everything from groceries to pizza.

Why it matters: Unmanned delivery vehicles are different from self-driving passenger cars, but both require exemptions from federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) in order to operate on public roads.

  • Carving out a new class for delivery robocars would be a step toward defining standards for future automated vehicles.

Where it stands: DOT is reviewing petitions from 2 companies — GM and Nuro — for exemptions from FMVSS.

  • GM's Cruise subsidiary wants permission to deploy a fleet of robotaxis with no steering wheels or pedals in San Francisco.
  • AV startup Nuro is seeking large-scale deployment of its compact delivery vehicles, currently in pilot phase with Kroger and Domino's.

Of note: A DOT official tells Axios the agency will consider updating the standards on a case-by-case basis, but says a simpler approach could be to create a new motor vehicle class for AVs.

Between the lines: Nuro is the perfect test case.

  • Vehicle safety standards were created with human drivers in mind. But, in Nuro's case, there are no occupants at all — so things like seat belts, backup cameras and mirrors don’t apply.
  • The vehicles are equipped with lidar and camera sensors that provide a 360-degree view.
  • If DOT were to approve an exemption for Nuro's R2X model, it could generate data that would help regulators develop standards for a new class of unmanned delivery vehicles, the DOT official said.

Background: There is a precedent — 20 years ago, as electric golf carts grew popular on subdivision streets, NHTSA created a new motor vehicle class for low speed vehicles.

  • Those low-speed vehicles are now the basis for limited AV passenger shuttles run by companies such as May Mobility and Optimus Ride.

The bottom line: DOT's goal is creating standards that ensure safety but can accommodate new technologies over time.

Go deeper

Imported self-driving shuttles have an edge over their U.S. rivals

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The road to growth for an American driverless shuttle maker is being blocked by regulatory processes that put domestic startups at a disadvantage to foreign rivals.

The big picture: Absent a broad government policy on self-driving cars, most companies must find a way around federal motor vehicle safety standards to test or deploy their autonomous vehicles on public roads.

Go deeperArrowSep 11, 2019

Toyota reveals electric vehicle fleet for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Toyota's "e-Palette" electric vehicle. Photo: Toyota

Toyota, which has a partnership with Tokyo's 2020 Summer Olympics, has announced the slate of electric vehicles that will be used to move fans, athletes and others around the games.

By the numbers: The auto giant said that it's providing 3,700 "mobility products and/or vehicles" for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. 90% will be electrified in some way, including roughly 850 fully battery-powered vehicles and 500 fuel-cell vehicles, the automaker said Friday. The "e-Palette" will "support transportation needs of staff and athletes, with a dozen or more running on a continuous loop within the Olympic and Paralympic Village."

Go deeper: Regulating the humans behind the wheels of autonomous vehicles

Editor's note: The headline in this story has been updated to reflect that Toyota plans to release an electric vehicle fleet for the 2020 Olympics, not an autonomous fleet.

Keep ReadingArrowAug 27, 2019

The autonomous vehicle cash grab

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Billions of dollars are flowing into autonomous vehicle development from all corners of the auto and tech industries, with no clear path to success for anyone.

Why it matters: Self-driving technology is not a first-mover, winner-take-all contest. Technology advancements matter, but companies will need to carve out a profitable business model that capitalizes on their strengths — and stop investing in races they can't win.

Go deeperArrowSep 20, 2019