Nuro EC-1 Part 1: Origin story
Nuro was born — and ramped up quickly — thanks to a cash windfall from what is now one of its biggest rivals. In the spring of 2016, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu were teammates on Google’seffort. Ferguson directed the project’s , machine learning, and behavior prediction teams, while Zhu (widely JZ) was responsible for the car’s perception technologies and cutting-edge simulators.
“We both were leading pretty large teams and were responsible for a large portion of the Google car’s software system,” Zhu recalls. Asto spin out its autonomous car tech into the company that would become Waymo, it first needed to settle a bonus program devised in the earliest days of its so-called Chauffeur project. Under the scheme, early team members could choose staggered payouts over eight years — or and get a lump sum all at once.
Ferguson and Zhu would not confirm the amount they received, butreleased as part of Waymo’s trade secrets case against Uber suggest they each received payouts in the neighborhood of $40 million by choosing to leave. “What we were fortunate enough to receive as part of the self-driving car project enabled us to take riskier opportunities, to go and try to out at all,” Ferguson says.
Within weeks of their departure, the two had incorporated Nuro Inc, a company with a non-ironic mission to “better everyday life through robotics.” Its first product aimed to take a unique approach to self-driving cars: Road vehicles with all the technical sophistication and software smarts of Google’s robotaxis, but no passengers.
In the five years since, Nuro’s homehave proven themselves intelligent, safe, and elegant, outpacing Google’s vehicles to secure the first commercial deployment permit for autonomous vehicles in California and groundbreaking concessions from the U.S. government.
While robotaxi companies struggle with technical hitches andtape, Nuro has made thousands of robotic pizzas. across the U.S., and Ferguson (as president) and Zhu (as CEO) are now heading a company that, as of its last funding round in November 2020, with more than 1,000 employees. But how did they get there so fast, and where are they headed next?
Turning money into robots
“Neither JZ nor I think of ourselves as classic entrepreneurs or that starting a company is something we had to do in our lives,” Ferguson says. “It was much more theand trying to figure out the biggest possible impact we could have.”