Self-Driving Vehicles

California self-driving vehicle startup has all eyes on Houston — here's why

Nuro is eyeing Houston as a pathway to success.

Photo courtesy of Nuro

Editor's Note: There are currently no autonomous vehicles for sale in the U.S. Nuro, like Cruise, is marketing self-driving vehicles. Autonomous vehicles, as defined by SAE J3016, can go anywhere at any time whereas self-driving vehicles operate under limited conditions.

Houston — with its sprawl and winding roads broken up across various neighborhoods — is particularly challenging when it comes to self-driving car navigation. And that's exactly why Nuro, a California-based tech startup that's raised over $1 billion in funding, decided to focus on the Bayou City for its self-driving vehicle delivery pilot programs.

"Houston is our first full-scale operations city," Sola Lawal, product operations manager in Houston, tells InnovationMap. "All eyes at Nuro are focused on Houston."

Photo courtesy of Nuro

Last year alone, Nuro launched three pilots in six of Houston's ZIP codes from Bellaire to the Heights. The first of which was a partnership with Kroger in March, followed by the announcement of driverless pizza delivery from Domino's in June. Last month, Nuro announced its latest delivery partner was Walmart.

Lawal explains Houston's appeal to Nuro in a few ways, but the challenging landscape is key. Nuro cars are learning from the narrow, tree-laden streets of West University or the pedestrian-heavy, ditch-lined paths in the Heights.

"There's a ton for us to learn, but it's a great microcosm of the United States in a number of different ways," he says.

In addition to its diversity within its street types, Houston, named the most diverse city in the country, represents an ideal customer base, says Lawal, a Houston native himself. Houstonians are open minded about new experiences.

"If you think and look across Houston, the average commute is over 60 minutes for people to get back and forth," Lawal tells InnovationMap. "As we surveyed across major cities we were interested in, Houston stood out as a place where customers said they don't want go to the grocery store if they don't have to or get in their cars again to pick up their pizza."

The third reason Houston was a great market for Nuro is the amount of regulatory support the state of Texas has — Gov. Greg Abbott announced the launch of the Texas Connected and Autonomous Vehicle task force a year ago — as well as the support at the city level.

"It's been a welcoming environment from the mayor's office down for us to be here," Lawal says.

Since entering the Houston market, Nuro's local operations have grown to over 100 employees. The company still has software operations out of California, and some work being done in Arizona, but the Houston is the largest — and growing as the company seeks new partnerships with more stores with a goal of eliminating errands once and for all.

"The way that we think about this is that this new technology and our mission of accelerating robotics for everyday life, is we will bring the people what they want," Lawal says when asked about what types of stores Nuro is looking to partner with.

Eventually, Lawal says, the plan would be to have every errand be delivery optimized with Nuro technology — from big-box stores like Walmart to your local florist.

"Our goal is to have a platform that retailers can connect to in order to provide easy and inexpensive delivery," he says.

Currently, Nuro's technology is still in learning mode. Nuro's fleet of Prius cars with staff onboard are driving up and down Houston streets mapping and taking notes on a daily basis. The company also has bots, called the R2 fleet, that are designed to be unmanned.

These bots are smaller than normal cars and are completely electric. Rather than being designed to protect passengers inside like traditional automobiles, the R2s are designed to be safe for people outside the vehicle.

"It's a new way of thinking about transportation and what our vehicles can and should do," Lawal says.

2020 is the year of these R2 bots, and some areas can expect to see them in action — specifically focused on Domino's pizza delivery — in just a matter of weeks.

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This story originally appeared on AutomotiveMap's sister site, InnovationMap.

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Toyota is celebrating the history of baseball's Negro Leagues in its new commercial.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

When baseball players in the Negro Leagues showed up, they showed out. That's what the redesigned 2020 Toyota Highlander is trying to do with its sleek new exterior and refined interior. A new commercial from the Japanese automaker called "Home Team" looks to shine light on both.

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of Negro Leagues Baseball, the segregated alternative to Major League Baseball that existed prior to integration in the late 1940s. In honor of the centennial, Toyota opted to include a player from that era in their latest commercial.

James "Jim" Robinson, former captain of the Kansas City Monarchs is featured as the family patriarch in the spot, titled "Home Team." Robinson's career started after Jackie Robinson had made it to the Yankees, in 1947. The young Jim Robinson played his first Negro Leagues game for the Philadelphia Stars at Yankee Stadium.

After also playing for the Indianapolis Clowns, Robinson earned an invite to try out for the St. Louis Cardinals. The Korean War interrupted his chance to try out then, but after serving 21 months in the military, he got another chance. After his tryout, the Cardinals assigned him to a Class B minor-league team.

Instead of accepting his fate, Robinson instead left the Cardinals affiliate and took his chances with the Kansas City Monarchs. It's a replica of that Monarchs jersey that Robinson wears in the Highlander commercial.

The Toyota commercial was filmed partly at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

"We are truly delighted that Toyota has chosen to honor the unsung heroes of the Negro Leagues this way," says Bob Kendrick, President, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. "The passion, determination, and unwavering spirit from these individuals is truly an American story."

"Home Team" will begin airing on March 30, 2020.

Go behind the scenes of the commercial below.

Pirelli's simulator has helped with the company's sustainability efforts.

Photo courtesy of Pirelli

A new tire simulator will help Pirelli reduce the development time of its products by 30 percent. This is because it greatly reduces the number of physical prototypes that the company needs to produce during the development process.

The simulator lives in Milan, Italy at Pirelli's research and development division. According to the company, the simulator makes it possible for different development parameters to be remodeled rapidly, which leads to a faster exchange of information between Pirelli and the world's car manufacturers.

Pirelli simulator Behind the simulator sits a control room where researchers and engineers can employ a number factors to test the tires.Photo courtesy of Pirelli

When compared to traditional research and development techniques, the ability to virtually model any car in the system and apply a variety of environmental and roadway factors, and equipment to the model.

Pirelli also says that this innovation plays into the company's commitment to sustainability. Less prototypes equal less waste.

This type of advanced product simulation has been used for more than a decade during the design and development of Formula 1 and other motorsport tires. Automakers, including Honda, use simulators for other functions, including testing innovations in safety technology.

Pirelli describes the simulator as being "produced by VI-grade and consists of a 210-degree panoramic screen, 24.6 feet in diameter, which visually reproduces a wide range of different driving conditions, roads and circuits. At the heart of the system is a static car equipped with various active technologies to accurately reproduce the sensations that any driver would feel in a real car, including the seat, steering wheel, seat belts and different shaker systems, which precisely replicate the movements of the suspension and engine."

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