SoftBank Group is investing almost $1 billion in a robotic-delivery vehicle startup, a hefty injection of capital that could help accelerate the race to put driverless vehicles on the road.
Nuro raised $940 million from SoftBank’s nearly $100 billion tech-focused Vision Fund, the startup said Monday. Founded in 2016, Nuro is now valued by investors at $2.7 billion.
The Mountain View, Calif., startup has plotted a different path in the development of driverless vehicles from its competitors, focused on creating its own electric vehicles specially made for in-town deliveries, rather than robot taxis or long-haul trucking.
Nuro’s vehicle is about half as wide as a compact sedan and shorter than most compact cars. The boxy vehicle has no side windows or room inside for people; instead, the four side doors open to reveal special compartments for groceries and other items. The vehicle navigates the roads using Nuro’s software along with sensors and lasers.
Nuro has built about six of these vehicles and plans to use the influx of money to create more. It is also testing software and hardware on about 50 standard cars on the roads in California, Texas and Arizona with safety operators behind the wheel by the end of this quarter.
The company is in talks with auto makers about possible partnerships that might include sharing technology for manufacturing might, said Dave Ferguson, Nuro’s co-founder and president. “For us it’s really about trying to build business at city-scale, and this funding will accelerate our ability to do that,” he said.
In June, Kroger, the largest U.S. supermarket chain by sales and stores, said it would work with Nuro to test a driverless grocery delivery service. Nuro is charging $5.95 for deliveries in the Scottsdale, Ariz., area for groceries from Kroger’s Fry’s Food. Forrester found last year in a survey of 4,504 adults that almost a third said they didn’t do more grocery shopping online because of costs including delivery charges.
Nuro joins SoftBank’s stable of investments that are pursuing technology and business models that look to upend the traditional world of personal transportation.