This is one of the biggest steps forward in autonomous vehicles we’ve seen yet. Last week, the NHTSA granted an exemption for Nuro‘s second-generation R2 low-speed, driverless, last-mile package delivery vehicle. The R2 was designed to deliver packages in urban areas. The exemptions allows the R2 to operate on public roads without mirrors (exempting the R2 from FMVSS 111), allows for it to have an opaque “windshield” (exempting it from FMVSS 205’s incorporation of ANSI Z26.1-1996 70 percent light transmittance requirement), and for it to be able to operate its rear-view cameras at all times (current regulations make rear-view cameras turn off when the car is moving forward to prevent driver distraction).
The NHTSA is permitting Nuro to produce and deploy up to 5,000 R2s during the two-year exemption period, which will be “closely monitored” by NHTSA. Nuro intends to operate these vehicles as part of a local delivery service for restaurants, grocery stores, and other businesses. Current customers include Kroger, Walmart, and Domino’s, and Nuro plans to begin residential deliveries in Houston.
This is a big deal for many reasons. Lots of the current FMVSSs simply do not apply to autonomous vehicles (such as those related to pedals, steering wheels, etc.) and several other FMVSSs are holding back development of cars today, such as the requirement for external, physical, rear-view mirrors (“lipstick” cameras with screens inside the vehicle could eliminate blind spots, reduce drag, and also get rid of other problems like mirrors hitting stationery objects, fogging up, etc.). By granting an exemption here, NHTSA has finally showed willingness to work with the private sector to introduce an autonomous vehicle that solves practical problems, advances the state of the technology, and does so with little risk to the public. Hopefully, this is the first step by NHTSA to modernize the FMVSSs so that autonomous vehicles can become a reality.