The Nuro R2 is designed to tackle the “last mile” deliveries, like groceries.

A Silicon Valley startup, Nuro, is the first company to receive a permit to use its autonomous vehicles for commercial deliveries in two California counties without drivers.

The permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles allows the nascent autonomous vehicle outfit to deploy self-driving vehicles on public streets near its Mountain View, California headquarters.

“The service will start with our fleet of Prius vehicles in fully autonomous mode, followed by our custom-designed electric R2 vehicles,” David Estrada, Nuro’s chief legal and policy officer, wrote on the company’s blog.

(Feds give nod to Nuro as first driverless vehicle for use on public roads.)

Nuro got federal approval for its R2 autonomous vehicle earlier this year.

The pandemic has prompted company’s planning to operate autonomous vehicles, but instead of carrying people, much like Waymo is in Arizona, its emphasis is on profiting from the delivery of goods both in urban areas and across long distances traditionally serviced by trucks.

Large delivery companies, such as Amazon, also are interested in deliveries via autonomous vehicles so it has plenty of competition.

Officials from Nuro, which has emphasized a package delivery model during its delivery, noted the California DMV has developed a regulatory framework that last year included small delivery vehicles. This framework set up a three-stage permitting process for companies to move from testing with a safety driver, to driverless testing, and now finally, to commercial deployment, they noted.

(Toaster-shaped Nuro R1 could soon pop up as a driverless delivery van.)

Nuro’s designed a custom, goods-only vehicle, R2, which was purposefully engineered for safety, with a design that prioritizes what’s outside over what’s inside, company representative said.

Initially, the company will rely on modified Prius hybrids for its driverless delivery trials, but it plans to switch to the fully driverless Nuro R2.

“We have extensively tested our self-driving technology and built a track record of safe operations over the past four years, including two successful commercial deployments in other states and driverless testing with R2 in the Bay Area communities where we plan to deploy,” according to the post on the company’s blog on Medium.com.

Earlier this year, Nuro became the first self-driving vehicle to obtain an exemption from the U.S. Department of Transportation to operate on public streets in February.

in October, Nuro began testing its R2 delivery vehicles, which appear to be a bit smaller than a compact car, around its headquarters in Mountain View as well as in Scottsdale, Arizona and Houston, Texas. The R2 name is a nod to the the feisty droid in the Star Wars films.

(Kroger launches driverless delivery pilot in Scottsdale.)

Nuro was founded in 2016 with the goal of using the power of robotics and artificial intelligence to solve challenges. It now has more than 500 employees working on the development of autonomous vehicles.

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