Nuro, the self-driving startup founded by two ex-Google engineers, has a new delivery robot. The R2 is the company’s second-generation vehicle, and while it looks similar to the first-generation R1 — egg-shaped, no room for a human driver, objectively cute — there is one important difference: the R2 has been granted a special exemption from federal safety requirements. making it the first driverless car to receive this certification.
From an article by Andrew J. Hawkins in The Verge.
That may sound dangerous, but it’s actually pretty significant. It gives Nuro permission to produce and test vehicles that aren’t intended for human drivers. Right now, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) require cars to have basic, human controls, like steering wheels, pedals, sideview mirrors, and so on. These standards specify how vehicles must be designed before they can be sold in the US. If a proposed new vehicle doesn’t comply with all existing FMVSS, manufacturers can apply for an exemption. But the government is allowed to grant 2,500 exemptions per company per year.
But regulators haven’t granted any exemptions to autonomous vehicle companies — until now. Nuro says it’s the first, which allows it to begin operating its driverless delivery vehicles on public roads “with regulatory certainty,” according to David Estrada, the company’s chief legal officer.
“In order for them to grant this exemption, the process requires them to conclude that the vehicle itself is at least as safe as one that would be required to meet the standards,” he said in an interview with The Verge. “That doesn’t mean that they look at the whole vehicle. But what it means is they say, ‘When Nuro removes the mirrors and doesn’t have the windshield and doesn’t have the backup camera, we conclude that the vehicle itself will be at least as safe as if it did have these things.’”
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