The future – at least with regard to food delivery – has come to the Heights.
Maybe you’ve seen the “avant-garde looking handbag,” as described by Wired Magazine, on Houston’s roads and wondered what in the world it is. The answer is Nuro, a delivery service using a self-driving vehicle that plans to bring Kroger groceries and Domino’s Pizza to customers in zip codes 77005, 77007, 77025, 77035, 77401 and 77096.
“Kroger believes the future of retail will include both physical and digital customer experiences,” said Nuro’s Sola Lawal. “We partnered with Kroger to make the convenience of grocery delivery accessible and affordable for customers everywhere.”
Nuro was founded in 2016 by Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, two of the lead engineers from Google’s self-driving car project. The company has been operating in Houston since March. The month before, Nuro announced a $940 million investment from the SoftBank Vision Fund.
Initiated first in Scottsdale, Arizona, Nuro completed thousands of grocery deliveries to customers before expanding to Houston, the next phase of the pilot.
“We operate 102 stores in Houston — an energetic market that embraces digital and technology advancement,” Yael Cosset, Kroger’s chief digital officer, said in a news release. “The launch is one more way we are committed to sustainably provide our customers with anything, anytime, and anywhere, the way they want it.”
As part of the arrangement, grocery orders can be scheduled for same-day or next-day delivery, seven days a week. Customers order their groceries for delivery via Kroger.com or the Kroger mobile app. The delivery fee is $5.95 per order, and there is no minimum order amount. Customers are notified via text message or a phone call when the vehicle is on its way.
“Currently, Nuro operates our delivery service within the City of Houston,” Lawal said. “We also conduct additional testing of our autonomous system and vehicles on public roads in Silicon Valley and Greater Phoenix.”
R1, Nuro’s zero-occupant self-driving delivery vehicle, is about half the width of a standard sedan and much lighter. It is classified as a low-speed vehicle with a max speed of 25 mph.
“Neither the R1 nor our upcoming R2 vehicle have room for any occupants,” Lawal said. “They are designed specifically for the transportation of local goods.”
In Houston, Nuro also operates a fleet of Toyota Prius vehicles that run their autonomous vehicle software and drive themselves while monitored by an in-vehicle safety operator who is prepared to take control of the vehicle at any time.
When the vehicle arrives at the delivery address, customers will receive an individual access code that they enter on the vehicle touch screen to open the compartment door. Once they have finished unloading their order, the customer can tap “DONE” on the touchscreen and the door closes behind them.
Nuro’s footprint in Houston is just taking shape, according to Lawal.
“In Houston – both with our Kroger and our forthcoming deliveries in partnership with Domino’s and Walmart – we plan to expand our service area, grow the size of our fleet, forge new partnerships, and collect additional customer feedback to continue improving our offerings,” he said.