Robot delivery startup Nuro raises nearly $1 billion from SoftBank

Driverless delivery startup Nuro just got a rocket-fueled boost from SoftBank. The company announced Monday that it has raised $940 million in financing from the Japan’s tech company’s Vision Fund, an gigantic sum that will help accelerate Nuro’s mission to put driverless delivery vehicles on the road en masse.

It’s also a huge vote of confidence for one of the lesser known startups working on self-driving technology. Formed in 2016 by a pair of ex-Google self-driving engineers, Nuro has set itself apart by focusing on food delivery rather than people moving. The startup recently announced a pilot delivery service in Arizona in partnership with grocery giant Kroger.

“We’ve spent the last two and a half years building an amazing team, launching our first unmanned service, working with incredible partners and creating technology to fundamentally improve our daily lives,” said Nuro co-founder, Dave Ferguson, in a statement. “This partnership gives us the opportunity to take the next step in realizing our vision for local commerce and the broad application of our technology.”

Nuro is one of the few companies to be operating fully driverless vehicles on public roads today. It’s R1 vehicle is about half as wide as a compact sedan, shorter than most cars, and has no room inside for human passengers or drivers. Nuro has built six of these vehicles so far, and plans to use the cash infusion to manufacture more. It is also plans to increase its test fleet of standard cars fitted with self-driving hardware and software to about 50, which it will operate on public roads in California, Arizona, and Texas with safety drivers behind the wheel.

The $940 million for Nuro is just the latest major investment in autonomous vehicles by SoftBank, which has quickly risen to become one of the dominant forces in the industry. The Vision Fund, a major venture investment effort that was started by the Japanese tech giant in 2016, also said it will pump $2.25 billion into GM’s self-driving Cruise division.

The tech conglomerate acquired a 20 percent stake in Uber in 2017 during the fallout of Travis Kalanick’s departure from the company. It’s also heavily invested in competing ride-hailing companies like China’s Didi Chuxing, Southeast Asia’s Grab, and India’s Ola. SoftBank has a multibillion-dollar stake in Nvidia, which has become a leading chipmaker that powers a lot of the autonomous cars being tested today.

While there is still a lot of uncertainty swirling around self-driving cars, particularly around safety and real-world applications, the companies that are developing the technology are continuing to rake in cash at a brisk pace. Last week, another startup founded by ex-Google engineers, Aurora Innovation, announced it had raised close to a half-billion dollars from a number of investors, including Amazon.