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The California Department of Motor Vehicles issued the state’s first autonomous vehicle deployment permit, which will allow food delivery to be done via robotic vehicles. Though San Francisco and Silicon Valley streets have had self-driving vehicles from an array of companies for years, the robotics-startup Nuro now has an official stamp of approval to start its paid service, whereas the other previous ones had only been issued permits for testing on public roads.
As the DMV wrote in a press release, an autonomous testing permit limits the compensation that a manufacturer can receive from the public while validating the technology on public roads. On the other hand, a deployment permit — which Nuro now has — authorizes a company to make its autonomous technology commercially available outside of a testing program.
California had granted Nuro approval to test its vehicles with safety drivers inside in 2017. By April 2020, it said the company could begin testing without drivers. Now, it has the green light to deploy its vehicles for paid deliveries.
DMV director, Steve Gordon, said in the statement: “Issuing the first deployment permit is a significant milestone in the evolution of autonomous vehicles in California. We will continue to keep the safety of the motoring public in mind as this technology develops.”
The deployment permit allows Nuro to use its fleet of light-duty driverless vehicles for a commercial delivery service on surface streets within designated parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, which includes the cities of Atherton, East Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale and Woodside. Unfortunately, Southern California cities are not yet included in this first rollout. The vehicles have a maximum speed of 25 mph and are only approved to operate in fair weather conditions on streets with a speed limit of no more than 35 mph.
According to an article published by Business Insider, Nuro will begin service with modified Prius vehicles set in fully autonomous mode, then roll out its fleet of R2 vehicles, which don’t have driver’s seats. David Estrada, Nuro’s chief legal and policy officer, said in a blog post: “”R2 was purposefully engineered for safety, with a design that prioritizes what’s outside — the people with whom we share the roads — over what’s inside.”
The vehicles in question have a top speed of 35 mph, a small four-foot frame, and operate with thermal imaging, radar, and 360-degree cameras, to drive on the public road.
According to Nuro, driverless deliveries will have a “big impact” on Californians, both during and after the pandemic, since they’ll help people who can’t drive and help streamline the lives of families.