Nuro EC-1 Part 2: Regulations
They built an AV that spared no room in the narrow chassis for a driver’s seat and did not need an accelerator, windshield, or brake pedals. So when the company petitioned the U.S. government in 2018 for a minor exemption from rules requiring a rearview mirror, backup camera, and a windshield, Nuro might have assumed the process wouldn’t be very arduous.
In a 2019 letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) “[wondered] about the description of pedestrian ‘crumple zones,’ and whether this may impact the vehicle’s crash-worthiness in theof a vehicle-to-vehicle crash, they were wrong. If Nuro is to become the generation-defining company its founder desire, it will be due as much to innovation in regulation as advances in the technology it develops.
Even in the absence of passengers, AAMVA has concerns about cargo ejection from the vehicle and how Nuro envisions protections from loose loads affecting theSociety of Professional Engineers complained that Nuro’s request lacked information about detecting moving objects.
“How would the R2X function if a small child dartsfrom the vehicle’s passenger side as a school bus approaches from the driver’s side?” it asked. It also denied the petition until Nuro could provide a more detailed cybersecurity plan against hacking or hijacking bots.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (now the Alliance Automotive Innovation), which represents most U.S. carmakers, wrote that theTransportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) should not use Nuro’s kind of petition to “introduce new safety requirements for [AVs] that have not gone through the rigorous rule-making process.”
“What you can see is that many comments came from entrenched interests,” said David Estrada, Nuro’s chief legal and policy officer. “And that’s understandable. Multibillion-dollar industries can be disrupted if autonomous vehicles become successful.”
Critical comments also came from nonprofit organizations genuinely concerned about unleashing robots on city streets. The Center for Auto Safety, an independent, thought that Nuro did not provide enough information on its development and testing nor any meaningful comparison with the safety of similar, human-driven vehicles. “Indeed, the planned reliance on ‘early on-road tests … with human-manned professional safety drivers’ suggests that Nuro has limited confidence in R2X’s safe operation,” it wrote.
Despite such concerns, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) granted Nuro the exemptions it sought in February. Up to 5,000 R2 vehicles could be produced for a limited period of two any incidents without a windshield, rearview mirror, or backup camera. Although only a small concession, it was the first — and so far, only — time the U.S. government had relaxed vehicle safety requirements for an AV.
Now Estrada and Nuro hope to use that momentum to chip away at a mountain of regulations that never envisaged vehicles controlled by onboard robots or distant humans, extending from the foothills of local andand international safety rules. If Nuro becomes the generation-defining company its founder desires, it will be due as much to regulation innovation as technology advances.
Regulate for success
“I don’t think any credible,AV players want this to be a free-for-all,” said Dave Ferguson, Nuro’s co-founder and president. “We need the confidence of a clear regulatory framework to or billions of dollars necessary to manufacture vehicles at scale. Otherwise, it’s going to limit our ability to deploy.”