Introducing Nuro, Robotics For Everyday Life

Nuro Founders Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu.

I couldn’t be more excited to announce our Series A investment in Nuro and that I have joined the Board of Directors.

Nuro is as compelling of an opportunity as I’ve ever seen in transportation. The company’s mission is to accelerate the benefits of robotics for everyday life. And today, they are starting with their first product — an autonomous, unmanned vehicle purpose-built to move products from place to place, focusing on local commerce.

It’s an incredibly ambitious project from an incredibly talented team.

The company has been heads down in stealth mode since inception a year and a half ago. They raised a large round, and Greylock has been involved with the company since the very beginning.

Local commerce is a trillion dollar space and has been extremely hard to disrupt. Defined by close proximity and low price, local commerce is a game of seconds and pennies. Products have to be moved in minutes and margins are measured in basis points. Tight tolerances around SLAs and margins makes it close to impossible to solve.

Local commerce has two modalities — walking and driving. If it’s close enough you walk to products. If it’s too far to walk either you drive to the goods or the goods drive to you. It’s inconvenient for the customer to make the drive and it’s not economic for a manned vehicle to drive the goods to the customers.

That’s where Nuro fits in. Through autonomous technology and an application-specific vehicle, Nuro is building an entirely new service and customer experience. Customers can have errands run for them. For nearly no cost any product can be delivered to anyone anywhere locally.

Nuro will finally enable the promise of local commerce (and with it, autonomy).

When building a company, there are varying degrees of difficulty as well as different sizes of opportunity. Occasionally, a company goes after a problem so hard and the opportunity is so big that it not only defines an industry, it can also define a generation.

Autonomy is that kind of challenge.

And Nuro is that kind of company.

Continuum of Difficulty
There are lots of different types of startups, all of which fall on a continuum ranging from software-only and software-based networks to hardware and hard tech. They represent an escalating degree of difficulty spanning core challenges from distribution and network cold start to ops/capital intensity and even technical viability.

When it comes to building software, hardware, and networks, there have been several transformative companies that solved all the technology, company building, and scaling issues. Those risks and challenges are known. Hard. But known.

Hard tech is different. And autonomy is one of the hardest hard tech challenges. It is still nascent and hasn’t been solved. And the path to full L4/5 autonomy isn’t yet visible. While Man hasn’t figured out autonomy nature points the way. Humans can drive with only two forward facing cameras (aka eyes) and one local processor (aka brain). AV robots have the luxury of leveraging large sensors suites that include lidars, radars, and cameras for a full 360 degree view. These bots can process, both on-board and in-cloud, with immense computing power. However, autonomous vehicles are currently far away from human’s nine 9 safety record — that’s one fatality per 100 million miles. It’s incredibly hard to create a robot that can “think” accurately and fast enough to make decisions around navigation and safety — especially when going tens of miles per hour. That will be a revolutionary achievement.

Nuro isn’t just taking on the hard tech of autonomy, it is also solving hardware and network building. All in an effort to enable goods delivery for anything, anywhere, at any time. Redefining local commerce is incredibly hard, but the impact is directly proportional to the challenge.

Continuum of Impact
The impact of autonomy will be monumental across industries.

Autonomy will increase consumer convenience. Over 3 trillion miles are driven every year in the US alone. Most of those miles aren’t enjoyable, but necessary. Commutes. Trips to the grocery store. Drug store. Restaurants. Now, imagine a Nuro vehicle bringing stuff to your house so you don’t have to invest the time and drive the unwanted miles.

Also, more than 1.2 million people around the world die every year from car accidents and another 2.4 million are injured or disabled. That places vehicular deaths as the 9th leading cause of death and nearly all of these auto-related deaths are avoidable. NHTSA estimates 93% of accidents are caused by human errors — mainly from impairment or distraction. Robots aren’t susceptible to either of these errors, bringing the promise of a future with far fewer vehicle fatalities.

Autonomy is the space race of our generation. It has already attracted enormous resource in the form of some of the best minds in tech and billions of dollars of investment. This is only the beginning.

A daunting challenge can only be met by amazing talent. And Nuro’s team is one the best I have ever seen. It starts with the founders. Jiajun Zhu and Dave Ferguson are pioneers of the autonomous vehicle space.

Jiajun was one of the first engineers of Google’s Self Driving program and spent 8 years there. He designed and developed the first two versions of their perception system which is one of the most complicated and important parts of the autonomy software stack. In addition to leading their perception team, he also helped build and lead their simulation efforts.

Dave is a PhD from Carnegie Mellon University who has been working in robotics and machine learning for almost 20 years. He led the planning group for CMU’s team that won the DARPA Urban Challenge back in 2007 and has made significant theoretical and practical contributions to the field of robotics. In fact, one of the algorithms he developed during his PhD is used for long range autonomy on NASA’s Mars Rovers. He spent over 5 years at Google as the machine learning and computer vision lead for the self driving program.

If you had to create the perfect autonomous vehicle founders in a lab, you would produce Jiajun and Dave. 😉

But it takes more than great individual founders to tackle this hard tech challenge. Jiajun and Dave have attracted a world class team while maintaining one of the highest hiring bars I’ve ever seen. It’s a team is as “big” as the problem.

I have been fortunate to be at the intersection of tech and transportation for a long time, helping build and scale companies like Tesla Motors, eBay Motors, Lyft, Cargurus, and Convoy. I have a deep passion for the space and have tracked it closely for my entire career, which is why I am thrilled to be a part of Nuro’s (unmanned) journey and looking forward to the road ahead.

Introducing Nuro, Robotics For Everyday Life was originally published in Greylock Perspectives on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Gurupriyan is a Software Engineer and a technology enthusiast, he’s been working on the field for the last 6 years. Currently focusing on mobile app development and IoT.