Silicon Valley is betting on self-driving delivery vans

While autonomous cars have dominated tech headlines in recent months, a growing group of engineers in Silicon Valley is betting that a different type of self-driving vehicle will be the first to market — unmanned delivery vans. Yesterday two new start-ups each claimed to be the first to reveal such technology, underscoring the intense competition amid rising investment in autonomous vehicles. Nuro announced it had raised $92 million from investors including Banyan Capital and Greylock Partners, the venture capital firms, and said it would run pilot tests with customers by the end of the year. On the same day, Udelv, a competitor, scheduled the first public demonstration of its delivery vehicle, ferrying groceries from a store in Silicon Valley to two customers. Both start-ups were founded by engineers who previously worked on car projects at much larger Silicon Valley companies… Unlike other delivery robot start-ups, which design machines to travel at low speeds on pavements alongside pedestrians, these new vehicles will drive on the road and follow the same rules as regular traffic. As ecommerce grows from today’s 9 per cent portion of total retail sales in the US, the costs, congestion and pollution will grow… The near-term potential for solving that problem means autonomous delivery vehicles could hit public roads sooner than the robo-taxis envisaged by the likes of Uber or Alphabet’s Waymo.

Leslie Hook and Tim Bradshaw