Meet R2, the First Self-Driving Vehicle to Get Federal Approval

No, not that R2

Nuro R2 Self-Driving Delivery Vehicle
The Nuro R2 will begin testing on public roads in Houston, Texas in the coming weeks.

The hype around autonomous, self-driving vehicles has for the most part cooled off, the industry having run head-first into reality. But there’s one company that’s not willing to wait years for the technology to hit public roads. 

This week, Nuro became the first U.S. company to receive a self-driving vehicle exemption, according to founder Dave Ferguson. The driverless vehicle in question is called R2. After receiving approval from both the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, R2 is set to begin public tests in Houston, Texas in mere weeks.

How significant is this? As the Verge explains, “Right now, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) require cars to have basic, human controls, like steering wheels, pedals, sideview mirrors, and so on … If a proposed new vehicle doesn’t comply with all existing FMVSS, manufacturers can apply for an exemption.” Nuro is the first autonomous-vehicle maker to score that exemption.

While you may not have heard of Nuro before — and more prominent car companies have applied for the exemption — Ferguson and his co-founder Jiajun Zhu have been hyper-focused on this technology. Before founding this company, they were both principal engineers on Google’s self-driving car team, and at Nuro they’re already two years into the testing of their first-generation self-driving delivery vehicle, R1.

R2 differs by being more durable, smaller in size and larger in carrying capacity, and crucially for the exemption, its speed tops out at 25 MPH. Once testing is complete, the idea is for it to bring products like groceries (it’s temperature controlled, after all) right to your doorstep, with customers unlocking them with a code on a touchscreen.

“The launch of R2 marks a new phase for Nuro, as we work towards deploying our delivery services at city scale in Houston with multiple partners,” writes Ferguson. So if you see a weird pod topped with a surveillance camera rolling around the city next time you visit, don’t worry, it’s just delivering kale.

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