January 11th, 2021 by Zachary Shahan
Nuro Leads the Pack to Get California Autonomous Vehicle Permit, & Ouster Going Public At $1.9 Billion
Nuro is #1
On Thursday, November 19, 2020, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved the ability to both launch robotaxi services & autonomous delivery services and to charge for them. The first company to get a permit to do so is Nuro.
Nuro, based in Mountain View, California, the home of Google, is a company we’ve been covering since at least 2018. It is focused on autonomous delivery services, and uses small, cute little vehicles to complete those services. Now it is able to actually operate a commercial delivery service that leaves out the humans. (It seems to me that this is likely to be a very common service as the tech improves and comes down in cost, and is also going to mean the loss of an enormous number of jobs.)
The autonomous vehicle deployment permit was essentially an early Christmas present, provided to Nuro on December 23.
“Over the past few years, we’ve worked diligently with the DMV to secure the necessary regulatory permits to help bring our self-driving delivery service to California,” Aidan Ali-Sullivan, Nuro’s regional lead of public policy and government relations, said in a statement. “We appreciate the work they put into this review process and look forward to bringing Nuro’s self-driving delivery service to our fellow neighbors in California.”
This is apparently not the first time Nuro has been a fast mover. It trailed only Waymo in getting an autonomous vehicle testing permit from California back in April 2020.
Interestingly, there are some quite precise limitations in place when it comes to Nuro’s new, milestone autonomous vehicle permit.
“Some of the same restrictions of the testing permit still apply. Vehicles will only be allowed on certain streets within Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, including in Atherton, East Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale and Woodside. Also, the vehicles are only allowed to operate in ‘fair weather conditions on streets with a speed limit of no more than 35 mph,’ according to a statement released by the DMV.”
The fair weather requirement and being limited to 35 mph streets are surprising, but logical. I did not realize the state was “micromanaging” this so much, but this is a logical stepping stone to more challenging and more advanced stages.
For some reason, Nuro is starting its commercial operations with autonomous versions of the Toyota Prius, but its cute little R2 vehicles will be rolling out later on. (Perhaps a more advanced version of that model will be named R2-D2. Well, one can dream.)
Ouster Going Public through SPAC
Another piece of recent autonomous vehicle news comes from the startup Ouster, a company I don’t think we’ve ever covered. The startup makes lidar used in autonomous vehicles, as well as for smart cities. Ouster is going public by merging with the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Colonnade Acquisition Corp. The deal values Ouster at about $1.9 billion.
The most surprising thing to me in this news, as reported by Reuters, is that Ouster was the 5th lidar company to go public in 2020 via SPAC. The 5th lidar company to do so! The other 4 were: Velodyne, Luminar, Innoviz, and Aeva. 2020 was a few things, and one of those things was certainly being the year of the SPAC.
By the way, as far as lidar goes, I know that there’s still heated debate about whether cars need lidar or not to achieve our autonomous driving dreams. Well, Ouster CEO Angus Pacala is convince that any naysayers will be proven wrong in time, but also that lidar goes way beyond autonomous driving.
“The vision of the future that we’re pushing towards is lidar on every vehicle on earth, every moving object on earth and every piece of intelligent fixed infrastructure on earth, in the same way that camera technology has propagated and become ubiquitous in the last 20 years,” Pacala said.
Leading up to this $1.9 billion IPO, Ouster had reportedly raised $142 million. “Five-year-old Ouster had previously raised $142 million from private market investors, including Cox, Silicon Valley Bank, and Fontinalis, which is co-owned by Ford Motor Executive Chairman Bill Ford.”
*Yes, that is technically the plural of Prius.
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