Nuro is building a factory and test track in Nevada for its autonomous delivery robots

By Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge

Nuro, the autonomous delivery startup founded by two ex-Google engineers, announced a dramatic expansion of its physical footprint. The company said it will spend $40 million on the construction of a manufacturing facility and test track for its fleet of self-driving robot vehicles. Both facilities will be located in Southern Nevada, which in recent years has become a hotbed for manufacturing and testing for the future of transportation.

Nuro, which is valued at $5 billion, was founded in 2016 by Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, two veterans of the Google self-driving car project that would go on to become Waymo. It is one of the few companies to be operating fully driverless vehicles — that is, vehicles without safety drivers behind the wheel — on public roads today. Its R2 vehicle is about half as wide as a compact sedan, shorter than most cars, and there’s no room inside for human passengers or drivers.

The R2 is an updated version of Nuro’s original R1 prototype, with around 50 percent more capacity (which translates into about 18 more grocery bags). The company plans on producing its third-generation vehicle at its Nevada facility once it is fully operational in 2022.

The new 125,000-square-foot factory will have the capacity to build “tens of thousands of delivery vehicles,” Nuro says. The vehicle’s powertrain, which includes the electric motor and battery, will be made in the US by BYD, a Chinese company that is one of the largest manufacturers of electric vehicles in the world. Nuro says it will develop all the autonomous software and digital infrastructure “from United States-based servers to ensure safety and privacy.”

Nuro says its $40 million investment will translate into $2.2 billion of “economic impact” for Nevada within 10 years and will result in the creation of 250 jobs. In April, the Reno Gazette Journal reported that Nuro will receive $170,519 in tax abatements over 10 years from Clark County. In exchange for the tax break, the company will create about 60 jobs within five years at an average wage of $28.80 per hour, the paper reported. The company also applied last September to receive an estimated $500,000 in tax abatements over a 10-year period from the Nevada Governor’s Economic Development Board, a spokesperson said.

Once the company’s manufacturing facility is up and running, Nuro will need a closed course to test and validate its vehicles safely. (As an example, Waymo uses a former Air Force base in central California which it originally leased in 2012.) Nuro said it is “taking over” 74 acres of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to build a “world-class, closed-course testing facility that will allow sophisticated development and validation of its autonomous on-road vehicles.”

According to a spokesperson, Nuro will takeover the entire speedway for its testing facility. The race track was closed in November 2020 for COVID restrictions but has since been reopened for events. The South Point 400 race is currently scheduled for September 24th-26th.

The test track is also expected to be operational by 2022, at which point Nuro plans on putting its driverless robots through a battery of tests, including “avoiding pedestrians and pets to giving bicycles space on shared roadways, as well as environmental tests and vehicle systems validation.”

“This is a significant moment for Nuro,” said Zhu, Nuro’s co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “Building on our tremendous momentum—including strategic partnerships with industry leaders such as Domino’s, Kroger, and FedEx and operations in three states—we are now able to invest in the infrastructure to build tens of thousands of robots.”

The company is relatively unknown compared to its rivals in the autonomous vehicle space, mostly because of its focus on delivery and not ferrying human passengers in robotaxis. Still, Nuro has made incredible progress on the regulatory front, becoming the first company to receive a special exemption from certain federal safety requirements and recently getting the green light to charge money for its deliveries in California.

How Autonomous Driving Could Progress Mobility Equity

By Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving

When we think of transportation and the way we move as a society, we may think of it as a singular monolith that works the same way for everyone. In truth, not all mobility access is equal. Some people and communities have fewer transportation options and face greater risks while getting from “point A” to “point B.” These difficulties are often due to a systemic injustice called transportation inequity. It can affect every aspect of life, from accessing health care to getting to school and work. It also affects how long some people can expect to live.

The symptoms of transportation inequity, such as higher pedestrian fatalities and fewer transit options, often affect low-income and minority communities the most.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Autonomous driving technology has the potential to provide safe mobility options for road users and pedestrians and complement existing public transportation networks to close transit gaps, enabling more people to get to school, work, and healthcare.

Problem: Higher pedestrian fatalities in communities of color

From the moment they walk out of the door, people of color may face more obstacles in reaching their destinations and threats to their safety while in transit. A 2015 study by Portland State University in Oregon and the University of Arizona found that drivers are less likely to stop for Black pedestrians trying to cross the street.

Because of factors like lack of pedestrian infrastructure and poor road design, there are more pedestrian fatalities in poor communities and communities of color. According to research by Smart Growth America, the pedestrian fatality rate for Black people is twice as high as white people in the U.S. on average, and up to three to nine times higher depending on the state. And the poorer a community is the more likely pedestrians are to die, according to an analysis by Governing.

Complicating everything, as a transportation planner pointed out in Bloomberg CityLab, planners do not always consult representatives from communities of color when implementing street safety programs, failing to get buy-in while also failing to address the root causes of transit inequity.

Opportunity: Autonomous driving technology holds the potential to improve road safety

Autonomous driving technology holds a strong promise for road safety. It can be designed to be constantly vigilant, follow traffic laws, and predict what other road users may do next. All this means autonomous driving technology can, in a split-second, make billions of driving decisions that take the safety of road users – including pedestrians to cyclists – into account.

Problem: Communities of color have fewer transit options, face larger distances between transit hubs

Where local transit, especially public transportation, options are limited, residents face bigger challenges in  reaching the places where they learn, work, and seek healthcare. The Urban Information Lab at the University of Texas-Austin estimates up to 4.5 million people in 52 U.S. cities live in “transit deserts” where residents, who are largely low-income people of color, need more transportation than what is available to them.

People in these communities often face what planners call the “first-mile, last-mile” problem, or difficulty reaching the first public transit stop in their journeys or getting home from the final stop because they lie outside the range of what is considered walkable, which is typically defined as a quarter mile. This problem may also be compounded by a lack of safe infrastructure for them to reach the stops.

Opportunity: Autonomous driving technology could help with first-mile, last-mile transit

Autonomous driving technology could help local transit agencies address the “first-mile, last-mile” problem by complementing existing public transportation networks. For example, planners in Phoenix have explored partnerships with companies like Waymo to provide more people with safe, reliable, and convenient options to reach public transportation stops. Waymo currently operates an autonomous rideshare service in Phoenix, called Waymo One.

According to the Mobility Equity Framework from the Greenlining Institute, making transportation accessible means improving affordability, accessibility, efficiency, reliability, and safety into account while reducing air pollution.

For transit agencies and passengers, fully autonomous driving technology could help expand on existing infrastructure, bring new mobility options to underserved populations and neighborhoods, add greater convenience and reliability through on-demand models, and improve road safety. Autonomous driving technology could help bridge the “first-mile, last-mile” gap to connect more people with transit. It may also one day reduce emissions and improve air quality by providing more efficient passenger and freight transportation.

Transit equity and long-term environmental impact

Long term, shared mobility through autonomous fleets could have a positive environmental impact. Climate change-fueled heat waves and air pollution hit communities of color the hardest. People of color are three times more likely to live in a community with fewer parks and green spaces that could absorb heat and mitigate increasingly common heat waves, driving a phenomenon called the urban heat island effect.

Where autonomous ride-hailing continues to advance, it could eventually free up spaces in cities that are currently used for large parking lots for housing, grocery stores, healthcare facilities, and parks. Low income communities would benefit disproportionately from this.

In its 2017 Framework for Equity in New Mobility, TransForm urged cities and planners to take autonomous driving technology, which they refer to under the umbrella of “new mobility,” into consideration when planning for the future. All these potential opportunities mean that autonomous driving technology could be part of reducing air pollution in the future while allowing cities to transform urban heat islands, resulting in positive benefits for many different communities.

While autonomous driving technology is not the only answer for issues affecting transit equity, it could hold the promise to make roads safer and more accessible for all.

When it comes to Autonomous Vehicles the U.S. Cannot Afford to be Left in the Dust

Compared to other industrialized nations, Americans spend far more time behind the wheel than drivers in other nations. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average American drives 13,000 miles each year. That is equal to one trip around the Earth, and 18 full days spent in the car every two years.

However, the American affinity for automobiles was not always a given. Abandoning the horse and buggy for self-propelled vehicles was met with reasonable cynicism, as reported by the New York Times in 1928. At the time, the New York Times argued a horseless carriage would be significantly faster, and, therefore, inherently more dangerous. Moreover, they argued that because a horse is a living, breathing animal with instincts and a sense of direction, it is not likely to run into brick wall, even at the behest of a rider.

In some respects, the dangers articulated by the Times were realized. Although the automobile has contributed to the advancement of our society, this advancement has come at the cost of precious human life. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), on average, over 100 people die every single day due to traffic collisions. Furthermore, NHTSA has also found that human error is involved in 94–96 percent of all accidents.

However, this statistically morbid reality does not discourage Americans from driving. Instead, we soberly acknowledge these risks when we get behind the wheel of a vehicle, and as a society, have created seatbelts and other safeguards to minimize these risks.

Yet, despite all the precautions that can be taken, they all fail to address the elephant in the room when it comes to driving — the same elephant that existed when Henry Ford rolled out his Model T all those years ago: human error is an innate factor when driving a vehicle that can result in bodily harm and death.

Transitioning to autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars, could eliminate the human error that is responsible for thousands of deaths each year. Furthermore, according to NHTSA, “the safety benefits of automated vehicles are paramount.”

Beyond the benefits of leading to a reduction in death and injury, autonomous vehicles also have the potential to yield significant economic benefits. NHTSA estimates that in 2010, vehicle crashes resulted in a $242 billion loss in economic activity and a $594 billion cost due to loss of life and decreased quality of life due to injuries.

Transitioning to autonomous vehicles and eliminating the human factor that contributes to loss of life would presumably eliminate significant costs to our national economy and overall wellbeing. Moreover, it has been estimated that up to tens of thousands of jobs could be created with the rise of self-driving cars, further stimulating the U.S. economy. Additionally, autonomous vehicles hold the promise of giving greater independence for those currently unable to drive, for example allowing seniors and people with disabilities to lead lives of greater self-sufficiency and independence.

The benefits of self-driving cars are significant. However, similar to the early 20th century, technological advancements give legitimate reasons for individuals to be skeptical. That is why this week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce will hold an important hearing on the state of autonomous vehicles in the U.S.

During this hearing, we hope to critically examine the risks and benefits of autonomous vehicles and more specifically, the risk of the U.S. drifting too far behind its global competitors. Although the U.S. is currently ahead of China when it comes to self-driving cars, we could lose that momentum and our position if we do not make this a national priority as they have.

In any event, our approach to autonomous vehicles cannot be driven by the same anxiety and apprehension of those who feared the demise of the horse and buggy. When it comes to self-driving cars, change is coming, and we can either lead from the front or be left in the dust.

U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) represents Illinois’ 1st District and is a senior member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and a former chairman of the then-Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection. Dr. Larry. Bucshon (R-Ind.) represents Indiana’s 8th District and is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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The Benefits of Autonomous Vehicles and the Future of Work Are Not At Odds

November 20, 2019

By Amitai Bin-Nun, SAFE, and Kathryn Branson, PTIO

In mid-November, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang published an op-ed depicting a grim future for American workers at the hands of automation. With the subtitle, “Self-driving trucks will be great for the GDP. They’ll be terrible for millions of truck drivers,” the op-ed painted technological advancement and the future of work as a zero-sum game.

While it is important to focus attention on the need to train, develop, and prepare the workforce for the jobs of the future, it is wrong to characterize technological progress as happening at the expense of workers. When it comes to innovation and the U.S. labor force, the choice does not have to be binary.

As organizations committed to maximizing the public benefits of autonomous vehicles (AVs), both PTIO and SAFE are dedicated to improving outcomes for the workforce of the future and wider society by embracing both the tremendous potential of automation and proactively preparing workers for the changes to come.

With the right policies and investments, the United States can enjoy the significant benefits automation provides while also supporting our workforce as we transition to an AV future.

So, what benefits can we already identify today?

 According to a SAFE report, America’s Workforce and the Self-Driving Future, publishedin 2018, full AV deployment could lead to nearly $800 billion in annual social and economic benefits by 2050.

(This table is a projection of the societal and consumer benefits of full AV deployment. These will phase in over time and cumulative benefits may exceed $6 trillion by 2050)

Cumulatively, these benefits will total as much as $6.3 trillion by 2050. AVs hold the promise of achieving such significant gains by greatly improving road safety—94 percent of fatal accidents are due either wholly or in part to human error—reducing congestion and vehicle pollution, and allowing people to reclaim time lost from sitting in traffic. Finally, the report makes clear that partial automation of trucks (up to Level 3) will not reduce employment, with additional studies projecting increases in trucking employment.

At the same time, our work continues in identifying, anticipating, and addressing the potential impacts AV deployment will have on the workforce. The SAFE study, based on work by scholars including Dr. Erica Groshen, the former commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dr. Susan Helper, the former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Dr. J.P. MacDuffie of the Wharton School, found that millions of driving jobs could be partially automated over a time period of 30 years. In light of their analysis, we fully acknowledge that deployment of AVs could present challenges for some workers.

(This figure is a projection of the marginal increase in the unemployment range based on a more aggressive “high” faster deployment scenario and “low” scenario with slower deployment) 

The good news is that since this transition will take place incrementally over an extended period of time, we have the opportunity to prepare and act proactively to ensure a smooth transition. We have, as a nation, done this before: Agricultural jobs went from 41 percent of American jobs in 1900 to 1.3 percent today—and in the words of MIT economist David Autor, “It’s not because Americans stopped eating.” Similarly, over the last 30 years, middle-class jobs have increasingly required computer skills, and the workforce has largely managed to keep pace with this evolving need.

How do we prepare the workforce for AV deployment?

First, we need to acknowledge the issue – both the opportunities and challenges. The attention it is receiving during the 2020 campaign is evidence of greater awareness of automation.

However, society would be poorer—by up to $800 billion per year by 2050—if we stifled innovation. Instead, we must engage in a broad range of policy efforts to 1) proactively work with stakeholders and  technology developers to understand future skill needs and train drivers well in advance of any AV-induced displacement, with a particular concentration on jobs which overlap skills with drivers’ existing skill sets; 2) identify career pathways borne from deployment of AV technology; and 3) support evidence-based policies and programs to prepare workers for an AV future and mitigate any disruption.

Fortunately, some of these policy measures are already underway. SAFE and PTIO have endorsed the Workforce DATA Act sponsored by Senators Gary Peters and Todd Young, which would track and collect critical data measuring automation’s impact on the workforce that would support the policies discussed above.

Additional examples of the sort of policies that would support the workforce’s evolution with technology include those that foster a culture of lifelong learning, enabling workers to retool their skill set over the course of their career as their work needs evolve. 

There are challenges in preparing the workforce for emerging technologies and there is no silver bullet that will solve this complex policy issue. SAFE and PTIO will continue to work for a broad range of thoughtful policies to answer outstanding questions around what AV technology will mean for the workforce through supporting additional research efforts, modernizing workforce training, and using evidence-based methodologies to ensure that society advances AV technology in ways that improve quality of life and economic opportunity for all Americans.

PTIO, Congressional Black Caucus Discuss “Future of Work”

A message from PTIO Board Member Marie Hocker, Ford:

I was honored to participate recently in the Congressional Black Caucus’s “Future of Work” panel, led by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE). My focus was primarily on how the introduction of autonomous vehicles (AVs) will affect the future of work – specifically how we at Ford, and others in the transportation industry, are preparing for society’s transition to AVs and the impact that the technology will inevitably have on our nation’s workforce.

At Ford, we foresee tremendous opportunity to come from the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles. While the potential benefits for our communities are many – such as more affordable and accessible transportation services, reductions in congestion and reductions in the 40,000 traffic fatalities every year – it is vital that we also identify the potential challenges and address them head on.

Safety, of course, is the number one concern for those of us working on AVs, but also of huge importance to us are the economic and social effects the introduction of this technology will have on our workforce, particularly those in the transportation sector. I have a personal connection and commitment to addressing this question.

My dad was a taxi cab driver, an occupation that is sure to be affected, and like me, those of you who have a family member, friend, or constituent in your community who may be asking if they’re going to lose their job as a result of this technology, also understand our collective concerns.

That is why Ford joined with the American Trucking Associations, Daimler, FedEx, Lyft, Toyota, Uber, and Waymo in forming a new coalition called the Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity, also known as PTIO.

Together with our representatives on Capitol Hill and other key stakeholders, PTIO is committed to exploring the potential impacts that AVs may have on the nation’s workforce.

The introduction of the autonomous vehicle and its begetter, artificial intelligence, are predicted to bring the greatest changes to the workplace since the Industrial Revolution, but the impact on workers will be felt differently since the changes will likely happen in a period measured in years rather than many decades.  We don’t have all the answers yet, and although we do know autonomous vehicles are not going to take over the world tomorrow, the time to plan and prepare is here, today.

In the meantime, the primary objectives of PTIO are to:

  1. Convene key stakeholders—all levels of government, labor, colleges and think-tanks—to have an open and honest dialogue about the transition from traditional to autonomous vehicles;
  2. Develop a data-driven understanding of the impacts of AVs on working people and work with you to shape public policies that will benefit the entire workforce; and
  3. Share information about existing and near-term career opportunities for workers during the transition.


We at PTIO, and I personally, look forward to a very fruitful association with you and other stakeholders as we strive together to address the evolving challenges and opportunities of modern technology.


Marie Hocker
Ford Motor Company
PTIO Founding Member