Nuro, another self-driving technology company, has become a unicorn. The company just received a $940 million investment from SoftBank Group, as reported by Reuters. Along with a previous $92 million in funding, according to Crunchbase, brings its current valuation to $2.7 billion.
Self-driving vehicles are all the rage. Uber and Lyft hope to use robotic vehicles and save the money they'd otherwise have to pay out as income to drivers. (And given their big losses, they might have to.) Many of the major car manufacturers are exploring autonomous cars and trucks.
The difference with Nuro is that it's not looking at passenger vehicles. Instead, it's developed a local delivery vehicle that goes no faster than 25 miles-per-hour and is half the width of a typical car.
The software running the vehicle is designed to self-sacrifice, so that in the event of danger, it can prioritize any other vehicle's safety without consideration for its own contents, which are only goods being delivered, whether groceries, dry cleaning, a take-out dinner, or something else. Assuming no in another vehicle--or walking across the street as happened with Uber--is hurt, then the only loss will be property.
The zero-emissions devices are in pilot use in Arizona--which has been one of the easier states in which to run trials of autonomous vehicles--with Fry's Food Stores. To use the service, the destination address must be in the 85257 ZIP code of Scottsdale and the cost of a delivery is $5.95.
It's certainly an interesting idea. The slow speed and light weight of the vehicles reduce the damage they can do. Delivery is popular and this is a system general enough to carry almost anything. With the ability to deliver general merchandise, the company could create more efficient pick-up and delivery schedules, combining deliveries from different stores to destinations that are close to each other.
But making a business work requires more than a "sounds good." I can think of some large cities were habitually driving less than 25 miles an hour would cause frustration, anger, and bad PR--and make accidents because of human reaction. Weather in Arizona doesn't get the bad conditions that occur in most of the country at times, meaning that the testing won't be anywhere near thorough enough. I assume that people use an app to unlock the assigned chamber, reducing the possibilities of theft. However, the people are the receiving end will have to carry the products in, which might turn the lack of human presence into a liability in many cases.
Then there is also the question of attention to bigger social issues. Is the only way to make money the elimination of entire types of jobs? That seems to be the direction of the current economy. Be the one to wipe out employment or risk being left behind.
However, there are signs of swiftly changing attitudes toward business, economics, and power in general. Making money by taking away opportunities from others will start to look uglier as time goes on. It also will contribute to social problems that won't be easy to walk away from, even if one can afford to escape to a gated community.