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article imageStartup Nuro's self-driving vehicle bypasses U.S. safety rules

By Karen Graham     Feb 6, 2020 in Technology
For the first time, the U.S. government’s highway safety agency has approved a company’s request to deploy a self-driving vehicle that doesn’t meet federal safety standards that apply to cars and trucks driven by humans.
Mountain View, California-based Nuro is a self-driving tech startup created by two former Google engineers, Jiajun Zhu and Dave Ferguson in 2016. In 2018, Nuro launched its first creation, the Nuro R1, a 1,500 pound (680 kilogram) an electric self-driving local commerce delivery vehicle.
Today, just two years after the launch of the R1, Nuro unveiled the R2, its second-generation custom-build shuttle, which is the first of its kind to be granted an autonomous vehicle exemption by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), according to Forbes.
Nuro's vehicles are not made for carrying humans. Weighing in at 2.5 tons (1150 kilograms), it can carry payloads up to 418 pounds (190 kilograms). The R2 has a 31kWh battery, redundant braking and control systems, automotive lighting and signals, and a sound generator for pedestrian safety, reports Venture Beat.
The autonomous delivery vehicle also packs a boatload of sensors that enable it to maintain a 360-degree view of the road at all times using a combination of thermal imaging cameras, RGB cameras, radars, long- and short-range lidar sensors, ultrasonics, and a larger exterior screen for unlocking and interacting with the vehicle’s various storage compartments, which, by the way, are temperature controlled to keep foods fresh.
Fully autonomous  on-road vehicle by Nuro.
Fully autonomous, on-road vehicle by Nuro.
NURO via Twitter
NHTSA approval a good sign
The Nuro vehicles were previously subject to federal standards for low-speed vehicles that travel under 25 miles per hour. However, the NHTSA exemption will support the R2’s deployment on public roads without certain equipment required for passenger vehicles, according to a DOT press release issued today.
In the past, tech companies and automakers have been able to test autonomous vehicles without NHTSA approval because they have had steering wheels, brake pedals and other features needed by human drivers.
During the two-year exemption period, Nuro is allowed to deploy 5,000 more of the self-driving delivery vehicles. The company will also have to report information about the R2’s operation (including the automated driving system) and conduct outreach in communities where it will deliver goods.
Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law professor who studies vehicle automation told the Associated Press, “This is the first time that the agency said ‘yes we approve this vehicle that does not meet traditional driver-oriented standards,’” he said. “That’s a big step because it makes it much more concrete, more real for the agency and really for the public.”
More about NURO, autonomous vehicle, Nhtsa, Exemption, lowspeed delivery vehicles
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